Handbook Extract: Plan, implement, review

RTWMatters team

Best practice planning, implementation and review of a new injury management program

The information in this article is from the Return to Work Matters Workplace Systems Handbook, under the "Understanding, calculating and using costs". The complete handbook is available in PDF and online format for all Return to Work Matters subscribers.

Finding out what’s wrong with the old system is the first step: coming up with solutions to the problems you identified is the next. The most effective way to maintain management and employee commitment while developing a best practice RTW system is to make your efforts visible by taking action! Cooperation is, again, key.


  • Establish goals and targets;
  • Develop plans for meeting the goals and targets;
  • Circulate the plan
  • Regularly and transparently compare the goals and targets with actual results; and
  • Seek input from management and workers on solving problems and improving the system.

This section of the handbook outlines best practice planning, implementation and review of a new injury management program. The emphasis is on raising awareness by taking action.


Strategy and action

Strategic and business plans. 

Strategic plans are about the ‘big picture’ and outline overall goals. Injury management is more likely to have good outcomes when it is ‘on the radar’ of an organisation. Including targets for reducing work disability and injury in an organisation’s business plan increases visibility and drives home the business case for best practice RTW management. Early actions taken by management let staff know that the program will make a difference.

Action plans

Action plans delve into the nitty gritty details of transforming strategy into reality. Developing and disseminating an action plan is an effective way to ensure the continued involvement of staff and encourage implementation. Action plans enable workers to assess the effectiveness of a new system and become stakeholders in the process.

Both business and action plans should include concrete goals, and drive implementation of the new system. However improvisation is also important: ad hoc actions in the spirit of best practice RTW raise awareness and foster commitment. Regular reviews of the system and collaborative problem solving keep the team onside and ensure that the plans remain relevant.


Problem solving: A collaborative process

Conducting audits, surveys and staff interviews should have helped highlight problems with the existing injury management system. Solutions are best identified collaboratively, seeking input from:

  • Senior management;
  • Employees; and
  • Employee representatives (eg. Unions)

Developing solutions can be challenging. An inclusive process that involves relevant groups across the organisation is most likely to succeed. 

The overall aim is to draw up recommendations in the form of an action plan. 
Those in charge of program implementation may need to prioritise solutions, but they should communicate back to staff the results of the plans for continuous improvement, with dates for review. 

Senior management involvement

Management need guidance about how best to facilitate RTW problem solving. Senior managers often achieve the most by asking other staff for their input. Management can help formulate solutions by:

  • Asking their managerial subordinates about how people with a work injury are going, and what is being done to help them;
  • Calling workers with an injury, to ask how they are and whether the organisation can do anything else to support them; and
  • Expecting monthly or quarterly reports about case numbers, costs, and any planned improvements to the system.

Another section of this handbook details the role of senior management in RTW overall. 

Involving the team: Focus groups

Employee (and employee representative) know-how is an invaluable resource when it comes to finding solutions to injury management problems. A good way to figure out ‘where to next’ is to bring together approximately 6 to 10 employees as a “focus group”. 
Ask the focus group to brainstorm solutions to problems identified during the system assessment.

Common problems…and 15 system fixers!

Below is a list of 15 pick-me-ups for sluggish injury management systems.

  • Further training for Return to Work coordinators.
  • Training of line managers and supervisors in injury management and communication.
  • The development of a system for obtaining regular feedback from employees with an injury, such as routine surveys.
  • Undertaking a group process to identify a list of modified duties for injured workers.
  • Development of the organization’s policies and procedures.
  • Improved incident investigation.
  • Better systems of early reporting and communication.
  • Specialist or external support for complex cases.
  • The provision of ergonomic advice.
  • Improved relationships with health care providers.
  • A written list of available modified duties.
  • Improved communication channels for people returning to work – eg a weekly catch-up, and access to senior staff if there are problems.
  • Regular reporting and feedback on the injury management system.
  • Regular meetings between the RTW coordinator, relevant supervisors, HR and claims staff such as the Work Cover insurer.
  • The development of a tick box list of essential functions of particular jobs for treating doctors to complete.This list should be available on the company website so that employees can take it to their doctors.

Once you’ve identified the glitches in your own system, consulting with both management and workers is the best way to get them ironed out.


The big picture: Strategic and business plans

Work disability is expensive.  Financial and senior managers are often unaware of the significant costs of poorly managed RTW. Having made the business case for effective injury management and audited the old system understand the substantial cost / benefit advantages of best practice programs. 

Financial and senior managers are often unaware of the significant costs of poorly managed RTW.

Now it’s time to knowledge-share!

The inclusion of work disability policy and goals within the strategic plan of an organisation:

  • Raises and maintains managements’ awareness of RTW issues;
  • Reinforces the financial and business benefits of best practice;
  • Encourages ongoing improvements to the system; and
  • Demonstrates to workers that managers are committed to best practice injury management.

Business plans should include concrete work disability goals.

Business plans should include concrete work disability goals. Targets can be simple or complex, for example:

  • A 10% targeted reduction in days lost
  • Improvement in the supervisor management of staff with injuries, as measured by the percentage of return to work case meetings supervisors attend
  • A 10% reduction in total work disability costs
  • Full integration of the work disability policy at a new site

The complete chapter has more information on creating effective action plans and other ways to kick-start your workplace systems, join Return to Work Matters today to access the complete handbook. 

Already a subscriber? Click on 'Handbook' along the top navigation menu of the site, once logged in.