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25-04-2024

Negotiating Safety: Facilitation of Return to Work for Individuals Employed in High-Risk Occupations

Authors: Elena Neiterman, Ellen MacEachen, Ekaterina McKnight, Meghan Kathleen Crouch, Karolina Kaminska, Cindy Malachowski, Pam Hopwood

Published in: Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

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Abstract

Purpose

Return-to-work (RTW) after absence due to a mental illness is a largely understudied area, especially in industries already struggling with retention like those posing unique and high risks for public or personal safety (i.e., pilots, police officers, and health professionals), otherwise known as safety-sensitive sectors. The goal of this paper is to examine how RTW coordinators work with individuals who took a leave of absence for mental illness in safety-sensitive occupations and navigate the RTW process.

Methods

Qualitative methodology was utilized to explore the experiences of 47 RTW coordinators who had worked with individuals employed in safety-sensitive industries. The participants were recruited across Canada using convenience sampling to participate in semi-structured interviews. The interviews were transcribed, anonymized, uploaded to NVIVO 11, and coded using inductive thematic analysis.

Results

Our analysis shows that despite the presumed rigidity of occupational health and safety standards for safety-sensitive positions, the notion of “safety” becomes ambiguous in navigating RTW processes, and concerns about safety are often interpreted as the potential risk workers may pose to themselves, other individuals, or the workplace image. Institutional constraints of safety-sensitive jobs shape the ability of RTW coordinators to advocate on behalf of the workers, ultimately placing the workers at a disadvantage by prioritizing safety concerns for organizations over employees’ needs.

Conclusion

It is important to consider how to protect workers in safety-sensitive occupations during the RTW process after absence due to a mental illness to ensure effective integration to the workplace.
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Metadata
Title
Negotiating Safety: Facilitation of Return to Work for Individuals Employed in High-Risk Occupations
Authors
Elena Neiterman
Ellen MacEachen
Ekaterina McKnight
Meghan Kathleen Crouch
Karolina Kaminska
Cindy Malachowski
Pam Hopwood
Publication date
25-04-2024
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Print ISSN: 1053-0487
Electronic ISSN: 1573-3688
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10926-024-10189-9