Introduction Since 2008, Belgian workers on ≥4 weeks’ sick leave have been allowed to voluntarily visit occupational physicians (OP) before returning to work. In 2015, OPs affiliated with Mensura occupational health services (OHS) performed only 0.73% (n=2,603) of these visits. Especially in small companies, visits before returning to work were limited. Often, employers were unaware of the opportunity to visit OPs during sick leave. In a large Belgian company, an initiative to encourage visits before returning to work was introduced with the aim to increase the chances of earlier resumption of work.
Methods In 2015, a large pharmaceutical company employing >1000 workers implemented the following procedure:
The company informed workers on>6 months’ sick leave of the opportunity to voluntarily visit OPs.
Workers expected to be on longer sick leave were informed about visits before returning to work and the possibility of (adjusted) work resumption.
Results In 2015, 9.71% (n=103) of the consultations with the OP were visits before returning to work. The most frequent causes of long-term sick leave (documented in 73 of 103 cases) were:
Orthopaedic diagnoses (excluding spine and back pain): 39.7% (n=29)
Psychological causes: 19.2% (n=14)
Spine and back pain: 12.3% (n=9)
Serious/chronic diseases: 6.8% (n=5)
Other: 21.9% (n=16)
In the 73 documented cases, 44 workers were eligible to resume work, while for 61% (n=27), an early return, which was executed with or without adjustments, was recommended.
Conclusion This study demonstrated the importance of promoting visits to an OP before returning to work. In the future, OHS could facilitate return to work by supporting companies in implementing sick-leave policy. Contacting workers on sick leave and offering opportunities for visits prior to return to work could create added value for employees and employers.
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