Periodically, we ask three safety pros how they’d handle a difficult situation at work. Today’s problem: An employee returns to work after medical leave, and his ability to work safely is questionable.
The sheepish look on supervisor Glen Sherwood’s face told manager Mike Kelly a problem was about to be laid on him.
“You know I like to handle this stuff myself,” Glen began, “but this is a tricky situation.
“You remember Scott who was in that car accident?”
“Sure,” Mike said. “What a shame. The other car ran a red light, slammed into Scott’s car. He’s had, how many surgeries, three, four?
I understand he’s come back to work.”
“Right,” said Glen. “We’re real glad to see him. He’s a great guy who’s been through hell. But … ”
He’s slowed down a lot
“But what?” asked Mike.
“Scott can’t get around like he used to. He’s walking without the cane now, but he’s slowed down a lot. I didn’t think he could return to his old position, so I’ve got him doing some lighter stuff.
“He keeps pushing to return to his old job. It obviously means a lot to him. But I don’t think he can move quickly enough if he needed to. I don’t want something else to happen to him on the job – or worse to him and someone else.”
Mike knew a decision had to be made about whether Scott could return to his previous tasks without affecting safety.
If you were Mike, what would you do next?
Edward Gill, Jr., Safety Director, East Boston, MA
What Edward would do:
I wouldn’t just take him at his word that he’s ready to get back to work. I would send him to one of our own doctors for an examination, and have the doctor give me his opinion.
If he’d been walking with a cane, I’m not gonna put him back on his regular job anyway. But if I say no, he might just think I’m picking on him. An outside evaluation would clear that up independently.
Eric Gislason, Vice President, Wilmington, NC
What Eric would do:
If he’s just gotten back from a serious car accident and surgery, it’s just a fact he’s going to need more time before he’s ready to get back to full duty. So after some time, I’d check up with his doctors and also get a second opinion to see where he’s at in his recovery.
My background’s in safety, not medicine. So it’s a good policy to talk to the people who know best.
Wes Sparkman, Manager, Perryville, MO
What Wes would do:
You have to be careful that you’re not restricting a worker who’s been medically cleared. I’d follow doctor’s recommendations.
If he’s been cleared for regular work, but we keep him on light duty, then essentially we’re treating him as a disabled employee. And that opens up a whole new can of worms.