OHS practices and policies in Ontario's construction sector

Construction work is dangerous. It often involves working at heights or in confined spaces, working in the presence of hazardous substances ranging from asbestos to noise, operating heavy equipment, doing repetitive and strenuous work, and much more.

The statistics bear this out. Between 2003 and 2012 in Ontario, the construction sector accounted for 27 per cent of all work-related deaths in the province, more than any other sector. In 2012, the construction sector accounted for 10 per cent of all allowed lost-time claims in Ontario, while representing only seven per cent of the working population covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). As well, in 2011 and 2012, the construction sector was among the top three industries with the highest number of days lost to work injuries.

Effective firm-level occupational health and safety (OHS) policies and practices can play a key role in reducing deaths, injuries and lost days among constructions workers. But what are the workplace policies and practices that actually work to protect construction workers?

The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) is conducting a study to find out—and if you work for a construction company in Ontario and are knowledgeable about your firm's OHS practices, you may be randomly selected to take part. If you are contacted, we hope you will participate in order to advance the cause of protecting construction workers across the province.

What is this research about? The research is trying to gauge the level of health and safety performance among construction firms in Ontario, both large and small. It is also trying to understand the organizational practices and policies that will help reduce the hazards faced by workers in these firms and, as a result, lower their rates of work-related deaths, injuries and disease. To achieve these goals, the study is asking people knowledgeable about their firm's health, safety and disability management practices and policies to complete a 15-minute survey about these policies and practices.

Who is doing this research? This project is being conducted by a research team at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto. The project is funded by a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Labour's Research Opportunities Program.

Who is being asked to take part? The research team is contacting a random sample of both large and small firms in Ontario's industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) construction sector. A research team member will ask to speak to the person at the construction workplace who is knowledgeable about the firm's practices and policies with respect to occupational health and safety and disability management. This could be an onsite or consulting OHS professional/coordinator, the employer or worker co-chair of the joint health and safety committee, the human resources practitioner or administrator assigned to coordinate OHS and disability management, the owner or general manager, etc.

What's involved in taking part? The person knowledgeable about the firm's OHS practices and policies will be asked to complete a 15-minute survey. The survey can be done online or over the phone with one of the research project assistants. This person will also be asked if IWH can link survey data to the firm's WSIB claims data. This linkage is completely anonymous and done within IWH. That is, the participant's name, the firm name and any other identifying information are removed from the data files before any linkage takes place, and the WSIB will have no access to the survey data. The decision to allow this linkage is completely voluntary.

What are the risks of taking part? There are no known significant risks associated with participating in this study. Survey respondents can refuse to answer any question, and are only asked to volunteer information that he or she wishes to share. IWH keeps all information provided confidential and, as mentioned above, all identifying information is stripped from survey responses before data analysis takes place. Results will be reported at the organizational level.

This study received ethics approval through the University of Toronto, Health Sciences Research Ethics Board.

What are the benefits of taking part? At the end of the study, participants will receive a report benchmarking their firm's OHS policies and practices with other participating construction firms in the province. The report can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses in a firm's OHS program, potentially pointing to areas of improvement that, if addressed, may reduce workplace injuries and illnesses.

As well, all participants will be entered into a draw for one of 10 iPad minis. Winners of the draw will be announced when the survey portion of the study closes at the end of March 2016.

How can I find out more about the study? If you would like to know more, please contact Dr. Sheilah Hogg-Johnson, the co-principal investigator of the study, at shoggjohnson@iwh.on.ca.