Background Considerable indirect costs are incurred by time taken off work following accidental injuries. The aim of this study was to predict return to work following serious accidental injuries. Method 121 severely injured patients were included in the study. Complete follow-up data were available for 85 patients. Two weeks post trauma (T1), patients rated their appraisal of the injury severity and their ability to cope with the injury and its job-related consequences. Time off work was assessed at one (T2) and three years (T3) post accident. The main outcome was the number of days of sick leave taken due to the accidental injury. Results The patients' appraisals a) of the injury severity and b) of their coping abilities regarding the accidental injury and its job-related consequences were significant predictors of the number of sick-leave days taken. Injury severity (ISS), type of accident, age and gender did not contribute significantly to the prediction. Conclusions Return to work in the long term is best predicted by the patients' own appraisal of both their injury severity and the ability to cope with the accidental injury.