Expert panel reshapes Ontario's OHS system

About impact case studies

This impact case study is part of a series that illustrates the diffusion, uptake and outcomes of Institute for Work & Health research, based upon our research impact model. The model differentiates three types of impact:
Type 1: Evidence of diffusion of research
Type 2: Evidence of research informing decision-making at the policy or organizational level
Type 3: Evidence of societal impact

This is a Type 2 case study

Published: July 2011

Following an incident in December 2009 in which four construction workers died after the collapse of a high-rise swing stage, the Ontario Minister of Labour appointed Tony Dean to lead a comprehensive review of Ontario’s occupational health and safety system. Mr. Dean, a former Cabinet Secretary and former Deputy Minister of Labour, chaired an Expert Advisory Panel (EAP) that had nine other members: three from organized labour, three from the employer community and three academics. The latter included Carolyn Tuohy, a member of the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) Board of Directors, and Joan Eakin, an adjunct scientist at IWH.

In December 2010, the EAP presented a consensus report with 46 recommendations. The government accepted all the recommendations, and legislation was passed in May 2011 to provide the framework for their implementation.

IWH supports work of panel

IWH was asked at the outset of the process to support the work of the EAP. It did so in several ways.

IWH President Dr. Cam Mustard prepared a set of prevention system summaries describing the delivery of occupational health and safety (OHS) system services in seven jurisdictions: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, the state of Victoria in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and New Zealand. These provided highly valued information as the EAP embarked on its work.

The IWH has long been a trusted, independent source of evidence that is important for the prevention of occupational injuries, said Carmine Tiano, director of WSIB Advocacy & Occupational Services for the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario and a member of the EAP. The prevention system summaries were very helpful background for the work of the EAP.

Two IWH scientists participated on one of the eight working groups that supported the EAP: Dr. Peter Smith on the Working Group on Data and Performance Measurement, and Dr. Ron Saunders on the Working Group on Vulnerable Workers. Saunders also served as liaison between IWH and the secretariat of the EAP. He arranged for IWH support for all of the working groups, for the panel itself and for the EAP subcommittee on small employers.

Several IWH scientists made research presentations to one or more of the EAP working groups. They included:

  • Dr. Lynda Robson, on the systematic review of the effectiveness of OHS training;
  • Smith, on the OHS hazards faced by immigrant workers;
  • Dr. Agnieszka Kosny, on the difficulties that immigrants face in navigating the OHS and workers’ compensation systems in Ontario;
  • Dr. Ben Amick, on the development of leading indicators of OHS outcomes in workplaces; and
  • Dr. Emile Tompa, on the systematic review of the effectiveness of insurance and regulatory mechanisms for occupational health and safety.

IWH scientists also provided the working groups with brief reports on key issues. For example;

  • Mustard provided an overview of the literature on behaviour-based safety programs;
  • Dr. Ellen MacEachen authored a report on preliminary findings of an IWH project on OHS issues and challenges regarding temporary agency workers;
  • Dr. Curtis Breslin met with the EAP secretariat to talk about his research on young workers; and
  • IWH teams also provided data to the Working Group on Vulnerable Workers and to the EAP subcommittee on small employers.

EAP valued Institute's independence

IWH’s position as an independent research organization meant it could bring a balanced, analytical view to many of the issues, especially controversial ones. Having an independent source for research and analysis was very important, particularly for the deliberations on issues related to OHS training, said Sandra Miller of Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, who chaired the Working Group on Training.

The reports and appendices of the EAP working groups included a total of 30 references to, or citations of, IWH documents (of which 13 were references to peer-reviewed publications).

IWH research helped shape the policy ideas that emerged from the working groups and the recommendations of the Expert Advisory Panel, particularly in the areas of training, vulnerable workers and data systems, said John VanderDoelen of the Ontario Ministry of Labour and head of the Expert Advisory Panel Secretariat.

OHS research, to which IWH has been a key contributor, was critical for the work of the Panel, and will be essential for the effective implementation of the EAP report, said Tony Dean, who chaired the EAP.