L&I grant program helps city employees get back to work

Port Orchard police officer Andrew Brandon underwent two shoulder surgeries due to an injury he suffered while arresting a suspect in August 2012.

Because of grant from L&I, Brandon was able to return to the police department and perform “light duty” while recovering from the surgeries and rehabilitation.

“He was injured, did light-duty work, off on L&I then came back to light-duty, then underwent another shoulder operation,” said Deborah Howard, the city’s human resource coordinator.

Brandon now is fully recovered and returned earlier this month to full-time active duty.

The city was one of five applicants that was awarded a “Return to Work” grant through the Safety and Health Investment Projects (SHIP) program.

Elaine Fischer, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), said the police department was awarded $63,000 in grant funding in 2013.

Fischer said the SHIP grant program has been in existence for several years, but the “Return To Work” portion of the program was added in 2011.

“It has been slow getting started because companies have to figure out how they can get people back to work in situations where it is a challenge,” said Fischer. “The grant can help them do that, but they have to come up the idea first.”

Fischer said employers and employees who get their workers’ compensation insurance through L&I may be eligible to apply for a special pool of funds through L&I’s SHIP grant program.

“We’re trying to get the word out to companies that this grant money is available,” said Fischer. “We still have a lot of grant money available for companies willing to go through the exercise of finding barriers and bringing people back to work.”

She said grants are awarded to projects that help prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, and develop and implement effective Return to Work programs, thereby reducing long-term disability.

Port Orchard’s project

The city began work in June 2013 to develop a “Return to Work” program that specifically addresses the unique needs of public works employees and police officers.

The city had experienced a high number of time-loss claims and several large claims in recent years. Howard said she saw the SHIP grant as an opportunity to help change the organization’s culture and reduce claims.

“I was concerned over our time loss,” said Howard. “We took a hit with people getting injured on the job during a three-year period. We really needed to address the problem and I thought the program would be a great opportunity to develop some type of program to return employees to light duty.”

She discovered the program through the Association of Washington Cities website from a press release from L&I.

“The city knew that the employees most likely to be injured on the job are police officers and public works employees,” said Howard. “However, due to the nature of their work, it’s often not possible for these workers to return to their normal jobs until they are 100-percent recovered.

Howard said in the past it’s been difficult for the city to provide medically approved light-duty jobs within the limitations set by an injured worker’s doctor.

The city has developed a light-duty job bank and a tool that allows medical providers to be specific about what injured workers can do in a light-duty job.

“Improvements are increasing the city’s ability to get injured workers back to work in other roles while they heal,” said Howard. “The police department has been the most supportive. They had three officers on light duty that are now back to full duty doing what they do best — protecting our city.”

Howard said she was surprised how few cities had a formal “light-duty” program.

Materials and successes can be replicated

Port Orchard isn’t the only organization that will potentially benefit from the city’s work. Entities similar to Port Orchard will have access to the city’s suite of materials once they are complete.

Fischer said because anything created with SHIP grant funds becomes public domain it’s an efficient use of state funds that helps ensure the widest possible benefit possible.

“We want injured workers to know that we want them back to work with the city as quickly as possible and that we will do our best to help them get there,” Howard said.

“We’re excited about the city of Port Orchard grant because they are actually bringing people back to work now using the strategies and tools they’ve developed.” Fischer added.


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