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Workforce Reintegration After Work-Related Permanent Impairment: A Look at the First Year After Workers’ Compensation Claim Closure

Abstract

Purpose The purpose of this study was to descriptively quantify experiences of injured workers with permanent impairment during their first year of work reintegration. Methods A representative survey was conducted to characterize health, disability, pain, employment, reinjury, and economic outcomes for 598 workers with permanent impairment who had returned to work during the year after workers’ compensation claim closure. Survey responses were summarized by degree of whole body impairment (< 10% vs. ≥ 10%). Results Injured workers who had returned to work reported that permanent impairment made it difficult to get a job (47%) and to keep their job (58%). A year after claim closure, 66% reported moderate to very severe pain; 40% reported pain interference with work. About 13% reported new work injuries; over half thought permanent impairment increased their reinjury risk. Asked to compare current to pre-injury work status, workers with a higher degree of impairment more frequently reported working fewer hours (OR 1.60; 95% CI 1.06, 2.42), earning less (OR 1.56; 95% CI 1.04, 2.36), and being at higher risk of losing their current job due to their impairment (OR 1.66; 95% CI 1.01, 2.71). Conclusions Injured workers with permanent impairment face long-term challenges related to health limitations, chronic pain, work reintegration, and economic impacts. Workers with a higher degree of impairment more frequently reported several economic and job security challenges. Developing workplace and workers’ compensation-based interventions that reduce return-to-work interruption and reinjury for workers with permanent impairment should be prioritized as an important public health and societal goal.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all survey participants for their time and input. We thank the following Washington State Department of Labor and Industries personnel, who facilitated access to the necessary administrative data and provided extensive data documentation: Gary Franklin (Medical Director), Lisann Rolle (Program Manager, Research and Data Services), and Sarah West (Data Analyst, Research and Data Services). This work was supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) under Grant R21OH011355. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIOSH. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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Correspondence to Jeanne M. Sears.

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All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board (University of Washington IRB Committee J; IRB00005647; FWA #00006878) and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments. All survey participants gave their informed consent prior to their inclusion in the study.

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Sears, J.M., Schulman, B.A., Fulton-Kehoe, D. et al. Workforce Reintegration After Work-Related Permanent Impairment: A Look at the First Year After Workers’ Compensation Claim Closure. J Occup Rehabil 31, 219–231 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10926-020-09912-z

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Keywords

  • Occupational injuries
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Return to work
  • Chronic pain
  • Health status