Seminar Presentation 3-1

3-1 (Presentation within Topical Seminar 3):
Workers’ responsibilities in work disability prevention, would they?

Presented by: Bram Rooijackers

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Rooijackers B1, de Rijk A1

  1. CAPHRI, School for Public Health and Primary Care, Department of Social Medicine, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, the Netherlands



We examined the willingness of workers with a chronic illness or disability in the Netherlands to shoulder more responsibilities with regard to tertiary disability prevention and return to work (RTW). To that end, we asked the following research question: ‘How do workers perceive their roles and responsibilities with regards to disability prevention and would they be willing to assume more responsibilities to prevent work disability?’


We conducted in-depth interviews (n=8) and 6 focus group interviews (n=42) among chronically ill people, which were transcribed verbatim. These transcripts were then analyzed using interpretative qualitative framework based on the precepts of the grounded theory approach and discourse analysis.


While workers describe themselves as willing to take more responsibilities in work disability prevention, they argue that their willingness stems from necessity. From the perspective of workers, taking responsibility for disability prevention is seen as the most effective way of returning to work. They experience pressure from employers (e.g. loss of job), social security institutions (e.g. loss of disability benefits) and society (e.g. social exclusion) to prevent disability and RTW as quickly as possible. Taking greater responsibility is then framed by workers as ‘taking charge’ and overcoming undesirable aspects of their situations. Not taking charge in this manner is viewed as risky and framed as loss of control and agency in the disability prevention or RTW process, which is perceived as being too general and not taking the specific needs and problems of the individual worker into account.


Workers are willing to shoulder more responsibilities with regards to disability prevention and experience pressure to do so. They also feel that disability prevention interventions are too general and do not do justice to their own experiential knowledge of their chronic illnesses. As such, they define responsibility not only as taking a more active role in disability prevention, but also to introduce and defend their own needs in the disability prevention process.