Occupational safety and health considerations of returning to work after cancer

Increasing numbers of people undergo a return to work (RTW) after a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Although there is evidence available in relation to managing the RTW process, at the current time, there is limited information available in relation to any safety and health issues associated with this process. Using a systematic review and organisational case studies, this project aimed to understand the health and safety implications of returning to work or staying in work during treatment, to identify what employers can do to facilitate this process for cancer survivors and to develop guidance for IOSH from the work carried out. The systematic review identified that understanding the potential changes in individual capacity (both physical and mental) are essential, as are the role of the line manager, being able to offer flexibility in returning to work, and understanding that the process can be long term. The case studies aimed to identify good practice and found that different aspects can impact on the RTW or continuation to work, including using risk assessments of work tasks rather than job roles, and considering the impact of physical and psychological demands. Different factors need to be considered within the risk assessment, including the impact of fatigue, risks of infection, work planning and breaks in the working day, the inclusion of emergency planning, and flexibility in start times or workplace. The work has also highlighted a number of evidence gaps, including: the lack of an evidence base for safety, health or ergonomic interventions; a lack of information in relation to manual workers and their RTW needs; a lack of information on those who have had to change jobs or on their future employability; and a need for more in-depth, longer-term research. Content for an IOSH OH Toolkit on RTW after cancer was also produced as part of this work.