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Introduction to rehabilitation management systems

What is a rehabilitation management system?

A rehabilitation management system is the framework of processes and procedures used to ensure that an organisation can fulfil all tasks required to achieve its rehabilitation objectives.

A rehabilitation management system includes a documented statement of senior management’s commitment to provide effective rehabilitation to their employees. It benchmarks the employer’s objectives and is used to formulate strategic direction. The rehabilitation management system will also:

  • recognise compliance obligations
  • provide for effective rehabilitation arrangements
  • promote continuous improvement
  • promote communicating relevant information to employees
  • provide for internal and external accountability
  • put in place adequate control structures to manage risk.

Why do organisations need rehabilitation management systems?

An effective rehabilitation management system has the benefit of keeping employment costs, such as compensation costs, as low as possible. It also benefits people management and business outcomes across a range of performance areas including recruitment, retention, productivity, absenteeism and staff satisfaction.

Effective rehabilitation management systems need to be integrated into an organisation’s broader workplace management systems. For this to happen, the organisation needs:

  • policies and guidelines for early intervention 
  • systems to monitor and manage the early warning signs that an employee is at risk (such as unplanned absences)
  • the involvement of suitably qualified professionals 
  • training programs for staff and managers to ensure that they have the necessary management skills
  • resources and commitment.

The goal is to have a healthy organisation.

Organisational health

According to the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) organisational health is the ability of organisations to deliver high-quality and timely outcomes.

It defines the elements of organisational health as1a:

  • direction
  • leadership
  • capability
  • governance
  • relationships
  • culture.

The costs of not having a healthy organisation

There are many direct and indirect costs associated with unhealthy organisations. Costs can arise from:

  • reduced staff and client satisfaction, which lowers morale, reduces productivity and leads to absenteeism 
  • downtime for supervisors and managers while they address underperformance and absenteeism (the cost of the supervisor's lost time)
  • workers' compensation claims (incapacity and medical costs)
  • high turnover (recruitment, induction and training costs)  
  • absenteeism (salary costs).

Establishing a healthy organisation, methodically identifying and preventing hazards, assessing risks, and successfully managing rehabilitation will position an organisation to achieve business outcomes.

Effective management systems are key to maintaining safe and productive workplaces and consequently reducing premiums. Rehabilitation management systems will help employers ensure that they: 

  • provide a safe and healthy workplace
  • meet their duty of care
  • assist injured workers 
  • demonstrate compliance with legislation.

Elements of a rehabilitation management system

The aim of a rehabilitation management system is to provide a system or framework within which an employer can meet or exceed its legal responsibilities. The goals are to prevent injury and effectively manage employees’ work-related injuries.

Adoption of a systems-based approach to injury management and return to work is recommended to make sure employers are strongly committed to ensuring effective injury prevention, early intervention, rehabilitation and return to work. 

The effectiveness of a workplace rehabilitation management system is best maintained through an ongoing program with the following elements:

1. Commitment and corporate governance
2. Planning
3. Implementation
4. Measurement and evaluation
5. Review and improvement.

Rehabilitation management: a model for continuous improvement

The five step model for rehabilitation management is based on the OHS management system model of the standard AS/NZS 4804. The model includes a set of five principles. These have been adapted to provide for continuous improvement of rehabilitation management in an agency1b.


These five elements are the framework for this guide. The effectiveness of your organisation’s systems can be measured against this framework.

In this guide, each criteria can be rated using the three level traffic light system.







traffic light


Urgent attention needed 


Absence or fragmented and disconnected management systems resulting in confusion of intent, priorities, roles and preferred practices. The organisation’s culture is reactive. Rehabilitation occurs on an ad hoc basis. Procedures are poorly communicated and not understood.


Some work to do to excel


Continuous improvement systems are the focus. Improvement is holistic, innovative and integrated. The organisation’s culture is systematic and committed to learning. Rehabilitation is focused on prevention and early intervention. Injury management systems are in place.


Going well


Leading practice, externally focussed and a foundation of capability and success. The rehabilitation culture is mindful and proactive.  The organisation has safe, healthy and successful workplaces.

Once all elements of this tool have been worked through, you can determine your organisation’s overall performance and which areas require attention.


1a APSC (2007) Agency Health: Monitoring Agency Health and Improving Performance

1b Rehabilitation: Managing return to work - A better practice guide for senior managers and supervisors. A joint ANAO/Comcare publication.

Page last updated: 04 Nov 2013