IWH leading indicator tool wins over advocates across Canada

It’s not often that a health and safety tool is quickly adopted by multiple jurisdictions across Canada, but that’s exactly what has happened with the Institute for Work & Health Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM).

This eight-item questionnaire was developed by an IWH team led by Senior Scientist Dr. Ben Amick, in collaboration with Ontario’s health and safety associations, as they worked together to develop leading indicators of occupational health and safety (OHS). OHS leading indicators are workplace practices and characteristics that are associated with future work injury and illness outcomes and, if changed for the better, can improve these outcomes. They have the potential to help identify the factors affecting the risk of injury, as well as ways to better prevent work injury and illness from occurring.

To date, the IWH-OPM has been completed by over 2,700 organizations  through their participation in one of two IWH research projects. The first project tested the reliability and validity of the IWH-OPM tool on its own. The second—the Ontario Leading Indicators Project (OLIP)—tested it along with other tools to compile a benchmarking database. In the first project, Institute research showed that, in a sample of Ontario employers, IWH-OPM scores were predictive of injury rates over the next three years. That is, high scores on the measure were associated with a lower risk of claims in the future, whereas lower scores were associated with a higher risk of claims in the future.

When used by employers, workers and prevention partners, the IWH-OPM can help point to aspects of workplace health and safety programs that may need attention, and help the workplace parties start talking about what needs to change in order to help prevent accidents and disease. It’s this ability of the IWH-OPM to act as a conversation-starter about making improvements that has particularly caught the attention of OHS leaders in province’s across Canada.

A measure of OHS change

The IWH-OPM is being used in several jurisdictions as part of an effort to strengthen safety performance in workplaces. One of these jurisdictions is New Brunswick, where WorkSafeNB teamed up with IWH in 2010 to validate the tool in a sample of more than 300 employers. The project confirmed to WorkSafeNB that the IWH-OPM predicts workplace injury rates better than an 18-item tool the agency was considering.

With that validation, the agency adopted the IWH-OPM as part of a suite of tools to observe changes in workplaces that are part of its Focus Firms program. The program targets firms with 40 or more employees that have a high injury count or a higher injury frequency than industry counterparts. As the agency works with these firms to help them develop an integrated health and safety system and reduce injuries, it is asking firms to complete the questionnaire at fixed points over the course of the three-year program to measure its impact.

IWH-OPM is also being used in Prince Edward Island, where building a safety culture was identified by the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) as one of five strategic themes for 2013-2015. To encourage principles and practices that instill safety as an integral part of workplace life, the P.E.I. WCB launched an employer survey to measure the shift in safety culture over time. To do so, it is using the IWH-OPM both to establish a baseline measure and to track change down the line.

In British Columbia, WorkSafeBC continues to evaluate and develop performance measures to provide ongoing monitoring of the effectiveness of its strategies. In February 2015, a special advisor submitted his interim report to WorkSafeBC on its progress in implementing the recommendations outlined in his WorkSafeBC Review and Action Plan. The advisor penned the report after being appointed to recommend ways to improve WorkSafeBC’s operations, especially its effectiveness as an OHS regulator and enforcer, in the wake of two sawmill explosions in 2012 that left four workers dead and another 44 injured. 

The interim report identified the IWH-OPM as a survey tool that has been garnering interest. WorkSafeBC has provided the survey and information on its use to all the health and safety associations in B.C., the report states. The agency has also used the survey with key employers to provide them with insight into their organizations’ OHS performance.

This innovative tool is helping WorkSafeBC engage with employers in new and meaningful ways, the report adds. Future uses for this tool are currently being explored and are expected to help identify opportunities to raise health and safety awareness levels for employers and employees across industries in B.C.

A measure of OHS performance

In Alberta, in recognition of the value of leading indicators to help organizations take proactive action to improve the performance of their health and safety management systems, the province’s Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour department has produced a comprehensive guide on the topic. Indicators for Workplace Health and Safety: A User Guide provides in-depth discussions on an array of issues, such as which leading indicator measures would be most aligned with an organization’s goals, and how to implement the measures to best ensure effectiveness.

The guide recommends the IWH-OPM to help organizations establish where they are at in terms of OHS performance and, based on the score, the type of leading indicator measures that would work best for them. It also refers employers that are interested in benchmarking their scores against those of their peers to the Ontario Leading Indicators Project.

Research continues beyond Ontario

Meanwhile, further research continues on the IWH-OPM in provinces outside of Ontario. While WorkSafeNB completed its evaluation in 2013, new research has begun in British Columbia, where Institute scientists are working to create a benchmarking database for the province of B.C. They also plan to further examine the relationship between an organization’s score and its injury and illness rate in a B.C. context.

The IWH-OPM’s popularity and use has even reached as far as Australia. The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) and Monash University studied the psychometric properties of the tool in a sample of Victorian workplaces. According to a 2015 research report, their findings were consistent with earlier studies that indicated the IWH-OPM is a reliable and valid measure of OHS leading indicators and that it might be of use as an initial ‘flag’ or measure of OHS potential in a workplace.

How to access the IWH-OPM

If you haven’t already, you can take the OPM at: http://www.iwh.on.ca/iwh-opm-questionnaire.

Publication date: 

December 2015

Type of impact: 

Type 2: Evidence of research informing decision-making