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Three Approaches to Evaluating Back-to-Work Readiness After an Accident

While it’s easy to understand that following an injury, trauma, or accident an individual may no longer be able to work, it’s much harder to understand when, if ever, that person will be able to return to work.

How do we evaluate anyone’s ability to return to work, and how do we know if it’s being done in an effective manner?

First we need to look at what work evaluation really is. Work evaluation is an experiential evaluation that uses reality-based techniques and operations. For some clients this observation may be the optimal way to understand how they may function in a particular situation.

The purpose of the work evaluation is to gather information to allow for decisions related to the client’s potential to work, the types of jobs which may be considered, and the types of training that may be required.

All types of individuals who have suffered an accident may be suited to a work evaluation. This list includes those with any combination of physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioural impairments. In addition, a work evaluation may be helpful for an individual who is unsure of their capacities or those who may be over- or under-estimating their own capabilities.

Work evaluation allows for understanding the client’s ability to:

  • Work independently
  • Maintain their attention
  • Retain information and instruction
  • Maintain necessary levels of stamina or strength.
  • Interact with co-workers
  • Respond to criticism or accept supervision

When attempting to evaluate an individual’s ability to work, three work assessment approaches can be taken:

1. Work Samples

These are well defined work activities making use of defined tasks, materials and tools similar or identical to those in an actual job or in a cluster of jobs. Work samples may include use of evaluation systems (Valpar, etc.) to provide information regarding client skills, interests, physical capabilities, work behaviours and learning styles.

2. Situational

This type of assessment is typically used to evaluate clients regarding general employability behaviours, with emphasis on assessing work potential. While this assessment does not necessarily involve the client’s current or previous line of work, it helps to assess many performance areas, which can then be extrapolated to general employability.

3. On-the-Job Evaluation

This form of evaluation provides assessment of functional capacity in an individual’s actual workplace. Evaluations of this nature can take place anywhere from one day to over a 1-2 week period. It is important to work with both the client and the employer to assess performance.

An effective approach to evaluating an individual’s ability to work could involve one or all three of these approaches. However, as with any other type of evaluation of treatment, the approach which is the most realistic and functional for the client is always the most appropriate.

Once all of the client’s strengths, weakness and functional capacities have been identified, it becomes easier to understand the individual’s ability to return to work, their need for ongoing rehabilitative treatment or workplace modifications, or their potential need for retraining in an entirely new field.