What we do

Our research areas

The Institute for Work & Health conducts research in two broad areas.

The first focuses on the primary prevention of work-related injury and illness. This type of research includes studies of workplace programs, prevention policies, and the health of workers at a population level. Key primary prevention research focus areas include:

  • Working conditions and health – the broad effects of work, workplace and labour force conditions on the health and safety of workers and other members of society
  • Vulnerability at work – vulnerability to risk of work-related injury and illness due to demographic, job, workplace and labour market factors
  • Workplace OHS programs and practices – the workplace-based programs and practices that effectively prevent work-related injuries and illness, including musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention programs
  • OHS regulation and enforcement – the government processes and programs that best protect the health, safety and well-being of workers, including regulatory, enforcement, consultation and incentive programs

The second broad research area focuses on secondary prevention to improve the health and recovery of workers who have sustained a work- or non-work-related injury or illness that affects their ability to work. This includes research on treatment, rehabilitation, stay at work, return to work, chronic disease management and compensation policies. Key secondary prevention research focus areas include:

  • Clinical treatment and health measurement – best evidence on the clinical diagnosis and treatment of work-related injuries and illness, as well as the measures to assess function and recovery
  • Workplace disability management – the workplace-based practices that most effectively help injured and ill workers stay at work and return to work
  • Compensation and benefit policy – the regulations, policies and processes of workers’ compensation boards and other disability benefit providers that meet the needs multiple stakeholders

Our research methods

Behind every IWH study is a team of researchers that ensures the study’s methods are appropriate to the research question and properly carried out, thus giving rise to reliable, valid and trustworthy findings.

We emphasize multidisciplinary research by building collaborative teams of researchers from different disciplines to bridge the gap that often exists between clinical/health-care and population-based researchers. As a result, core research disciplines at the Institute include not only epidemiology and statistics, but also clinical disciplines, economics, psychology and sociology.

Our research cuts across both quantitative and qualitative research. The former uses numbers-based research to point to problems and solutions; the latter uses interview-based research to help explain them. We have solid expertise in both types of research, and have contributed innovative methods to both fields when it comes to research into work injury and disability prevention

For example, we have developed and contributed specialized expertise in:

  • biostatistical methods, such as modelling change over time, designing surveys, and analyzing data where the relationships among the variables of interest are complex
  • analysis of routinely collected administrative data, such as that available from workers’ compensation boards and hospital emergency departments, as well as Statistics Canada survey data
  • data linkage, such as linking workers’ compensation data with Statistics Canada data to help answer important research questions
  • measurement of functional limitations, with a particular strength in psychometric methods and the conception of health, function and disability
  • systematic review methods to answer specific OHS questions, which involves reviewing thousands of articles on a given topic, determining those of sufficient quality to be considered meaningful, and synthesizing their findings.

Read more about our expertise in systematic reviews.

Our knowledge transfer and exchange activities

The diffusion of research results to stakeholders—including policy-makers, employers, workers, injury and disability prevention professionals, health and safety associations and clinicians—is a key priority of the Institute. To ensure practical and relevant findings reach the audiences that can use them, we see knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) as a core part of our mandate, along with research.

We define KTE as a process of exchange between researchers and stakeholders/knowledge-users designed to make relevant research information available and accessible for use in practice, planning and policy-making. It incorporates both communications functions (e.g., website, newsletters, media releases, social media) aimed at reaching a wide audience, and stakeholder engagement (e.g., networks, outreach, one-on-one meetings, group presentations) aimed at building relationships with potential research users and integrating stakeholders in multiple stages of the research process.

We strive to achieve integrated KTE (iKTE) where possible. Integrated KTE involves stakeholders in all stages of a research project from beginning to end—from the initial development of the research question to the dissemination of findings.

The KTE team at the Institute works with established networks of stakeholders to help us stay in touch with emerging issues in different stakeholder communities, as well as to help us disseminate the results of IWH research. All of our networks share a common purpose: to promote evidence-informed policy and practice in the prevention of work injury and disability.

Read more about our knowledge transfer and exchange methods, stakeholder networks and resources.

Our focus on developing research capacity

IWH is committed to developing Canada’s next wave of work-health researchers, We strongly believe in developing and financially supporting graduate and post-doctoral students who are interested in the study of work and health. One of the key ways we support budding researchers is through the two training awards we offer.

One is a two-year post-doctoral award called the Mustard Postdoctoral Researcher Award in Work and Health. This award is named in honour of Dr. Fraser Mustard, chair of the Institute’s founding Board of Directors.

The second is a award for young researchers at the master’s or doctoral level called the S. Leonard Syme Research Training Award in Work and Health. It recognizes the contributions of Dr. Syme as chair of IWH’s Scientific Advisory Committee between 1995 and 2002.

Through these training awards, students benefit from working with senior researchers who act as their mentors and advisors. They get hands-on research experience, skills development in diverse research methods, networking opportunities with partners and stakeholders, and exposure to knowledge transfer and dissemination activities. Most of our students go on to establish successful research careers, many with a focus on the primary or secondary prevention of work-related injury and disabilities.

IWH further contributes to the development of research capacity in work and health through the teaching work of our scientists. All IWH scientists are affiliated with one or more Ontario universities, teach courses on research methods and supervise graduate students. We also run a regular workshop on conducting systematic reviews, which attracts students from a range of disciplines in the social sciences.

Read more about our training awards.