How to reduce the risks of chronicity and disability-related costs

Occupational accidents and illnesses are costly for employees, employers and the economy, especially when these conditions become chronic. Experts agree that prevention is fundamental to reducing absenteeism. But when workers get on the slippery slope to disability, what can be done to promote a successful return to work and reduce the risk of recurrence or chronicity?

Disability costs: constant pressure for employers, suffering for employees

The International Labour Organization defines disability management as “an active process of minimizing the impact of an impairment (resulting from injury, illness or disease) on the individual’s capacity to participate competitively in the work environment.” At a time when the costs of absenteeism are soaring due to short- and long-term disability leaves, the management of absenteeism is receiving worldwide attention.

A 2016 survey revealed that 59% of Canadian employees live with a chronic health condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or depression.1 However, according to the CNESST, the number of chronic disability cases related to a workplace injury is small. Costs, on the other hand, are high since 4% of workers who file a claim with the CSST account for 73% of total compensation, which can amount to $1.6 billion annually.  For employers, absenteeism costs can represent some 2.4% of their gross payroll every year. If this doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that the direct cost of absenteeism to the Canadian economy is estimated at $16.6 billion annually.2

Employers are under increasing pressure to limit escalating absenteeism costs and the resulting losses in productivity. This means investing in prevention initiatives, health and well-being programs and effective disability management system. Absenteeism is more than just a matter of human resources—it’s a destroyer of productivity in the workplace. Obviously, the financial costs are nothing compared to the personal tragedies being faced by the affected employees: loss of self-esteem, broken family lives, physical pain, depression, etc.

The solution to this issue is actually quite simple. Identifying potential problems and acting promptly is just common sense. But implementing an effective and collaborative intervention isn’t easy.  

Timeliness as a success factor

Did you know that after 12 weeks of sick leave due to a back injury, the probability of a successful return to work falls below 60%?3 In terms of chronicity, time plays a vital role. According to the Conference Board of Canada, nearly one quarter of all employees on health-related leave had experienced difficulty getting the right medical treatment when their problem first began. They found it hard obtaining an early appointment with a family doctor or medical specialist, or getting access to appropriate medication.4

Independent medical expertise, combined with proper management of disability records, can help reduce the risk of long-term work absences. Early detection of those who are more likely to develop a chronic illness or condition promotes optimal interventions of the right kind.

Being able to count on multidisciplinary medical teams early in the disability process is therefore crucial. Independent expertise helps to prevent an employee’s limitations from getting worse, increase the likelihood of returning to work and avoid the individual’s overall health from worsening.

With their skills in the medico-legal field and their impartiality, the physicians who offer independent medical expertise can offer an objective evaluation of the employee’s condition. By corroborating or supplementing the recommendations of the attending physician, they make a diagnosis, recommend appropriate treatments, assess the harm to the employee’s physical or psychological integrity and suggest a return-to-work date.

Evaluating overall health to reduce the risk of chronicity

Again according to the Conference Board of Canada, employees on mental health leave are likely to be absent longer than those with physical health conditions. Not to mention the psychosocial factors impacting the risk of chronic illness, such as the feeling of guilt associated with being inactive. Chronic disability can also occur when a worker is unable to resume work or hold an equivalent job or one that they consider satisfactory.

With the right medical expertise, all of these issues can be identified. Thus, the employee’s chances of resuming a normal life by following a personalized rehabilitation plan are improved. When faced with a complex situation, it’s critical to encourage teamwork, communicate information effectively and bring together the right individuals, at the right place, at the right time, to support the worker. Working in concert speeds up the decision-making process, leading to the most effective actions.

By implementing disability management practices that are truly effective, organizations can double their impact. Such practices serve the interests of employers by promoting the stability of their human capital. At the same time, they serve the interests of employees who can get the medical support they need while maintaining their employment income.

We cannot repeat it enough: The key is administering care that is effective, prompt and founded on independent medical expertise.


1. The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey

2. L’incapacité chronique : retour au travail

3.  Prévenir l’incapacité prolongée chez votre patient souffrant de mal de dos

4. Disability Management. Opportunities for Employer Action.

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