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Disability Management - Partnerships with Occupational Therapists

Disability Management - Partnerships with Occupational Therapists


Used with permission of the author
Author: Farzana Nalla Gattoo
Occupational Therapist
27 March 2007

Workinfo.com Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 6, 2007

Occupational therapy (OT) is an allied medical profession. The profession spans the assessment and treatment of dysfunction that can occur in adults or children as a result of orthopaedic, neurological or any other causes of disablement.

Typically, OTs are concerned about the functional implications of the injury or impairment. By this we mean, the impact that the injury has on the persons ability to fulfill his life roles and requirements, including self care, work and social/leisure interests.

OTs may be employed in hospital or clinic type environments where they are typically involved in the rehabilitation of persons with injury to facilitate independence, despite limitations imposed by the injury. That means making them self-reliant and capable of leading a life at a level optimizing independence within that person’s framework.

OT’s role in society was highlighted with the First World War when soldiers returning from the war found themselves unable to return to their former occupations or leading a life separate from society because of their war experience and resultant injuries. OT’s in that era were key in allowing these soldiers to reintegrate into society by getting them involved in activities that were meaningful, productive and contributory to society at the time. OT philosophy bases its principles on the notion that human nature is such that requires people to be meaningfully engaged in some sort of activity or occupation, and by doing so gives meaning to one’s everyday existence. When the engagement in meaningful activity is interrupted by illness, injury or circumstance, a person’s overall wellbeing and independence is impacted upon.

A century later, nothing has changed.

Occupational therapists are still involved in the treatment or facilitation of persons with injury or illness to allow them to reach functional independence, including improving their ability to engage in their life roles, including that of being a productive employee.

Companies are often faced with the dilemma of injured workers, workers faced with disability (temporary or permanent), absenteeism related to ill health, cost and productivity implications due to absenteeism, and of course, the corporate culture relating to managing such situations.

Traditionally it is the HR door that is tapped upon when the head of these problems arise. But are HR personnel adequately informed of the medical sequelae [a pathological condition resulting from a disease – editor’s note] and the possible impact of dealing with such differing and sometimes contentious issues?

I have the utmost respect for the role and functions of HR personnel and believe that to a large extent they are the backbone of an organization, ensuring that all the  processes are running like a well oiled engine. But, and here is where I would like to extend the role of OT in an organizational context to the existing HR functions…

To be able to ensure that we are getting the best out of our employees, to be able to show empathy with their individual circumstances and not to mention to ensure compliance with current labour legislation, there must be an understanding of the nature of the illness, and the course it is prognosed to take this employee on.

In an ideal world, employers would all be willing to accommodate these employees who sustain injury or illness. In fact, they would be willing to ensure job security in their rehabilitation period, knowing that their loyalty to the company and return to work is going to lead hand in hand.

But do we live in this ideal world?

Why not I say… South Africa has made every attempt from a legislative perspective (short of passing a separate Disability Act) to ensure that people with injuries or disabilities are treated fairly at work.

It is up to the individual organisations to make the collaborative effort in giving meat to the legislative skeleton.

And certainly, standing beside HR in realizing this potential, is the role of Occupational Therapists working in the field of vocational rehabilitation. Together, we will be able to put in place structures, programmes and processes to propel forward a company’s ability to retain its employees instead of repeatedly being faced with the costs incurred in staff recruitment and retraining.

Let us work together to bring your Company on par with international trends, where disability issues are stepping out of the shadows of the unknown, and into the spotlight of progressive corporate environments.

Farzana Nalla Gattoois a qualified Occupational Therapist, with further qualifications in Insurance from the Insurance Institute of South Africa, Labour Law and Vocational Rehabilitation. She currently runs a consulting practice from Auckland Park specializing in Disability Management, Medicolegal evaluations and Vocational Rehabilitation. Her services include consultation to employers on implementing effective disability practice, managing employee wellness and absenteeism, assessment of ill / injured workers for application of disability benefits, workplace analysis, accessibility assessments, desk audits on current policies and procedures for alignment to current legislation, facilitation of return to work programmes for injured workers including identification and recommendation of reasonable accommodations as well as a host of other related services to the corporate, legal and insurance sectors. She may be contacted at worktherapy@gattoo.co.za, 011-482-9237 and fax 086-60-92370.                              

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