Medical providers frequently send patients, particularly those who have been out of work for a while, to work conditioning and hardening to prepare them for returning to work or retraining. Work conditioning and hardening are performed in succession and are designed to meet a specific return to work or retraining goal. Usually an injured worker starts with work conditioning for 2 hours a day, 3 days a week, progressing to 5 days a week, over a 4 week period. Hours, days and weeks may vary.
Work conditioning involves intense exercises designed to increase strength, flexibility, coordination and conditioning to help prepare an injured worker for certain job duties.
After completing work conditioning, the injured worker moves to work hardening. This program is a more intense form of work conditioning. The program involves a gradual increase in hours, over a 4 to 6 week period starting at 2 to 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. At the end, you will be working in the program up to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Work hardening shares similar goals to work conditioning. However, it emphasizes real or simulated work activities to increase an injured worker’s ability to perform a specific job. To accomplish this goal, therapists will set up work stations at the facility.
Some examples of work stations include:
A cashiering station for a grocery store clerk/checker to check, scan and bag groceries.
An injured care giver may practice assisting someone getting in and out of a wheelchair, and push a wheelchair with weights on it around the facility.
A laborer might fill a wheelbarrow at a shoveling station and then wheel it around the facility.
A stocker may practice carrying boxes of bottled water and then putting them on shelves at various levels.
The worker practices these tasks over and over. Additionally, the worker will perform cardiovascular exercises, usually on a treadmill or stationary bike, and weight training with free/circuit weights. The therapist should teach proper body mechanics, work pacing safety and injury prevention, through direct interaction with the worker and through the use of videos.
Since these programs are intense, injured workers are occasionally hurt. You should listen and follow the therapist’s instructions closely. If you are injured, the new condition should be covered under your workers’ compensation claim.
The return to work goal often involves returning to your job of injury or another job the Department claims you know how to perform. If the work conditioning and hardening increases your physical abilities enough to perform one of those jobs, then the Department may find you employable and terminate your time loss.
Dane D. Ostrander, Attorney at Law
Williams, Wyckoff & Ostrander, PLLC