WSIB includes Institute safety culture tool in Health and Safety Excellence Program

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: March 2022

In 2020, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) launched the Health and Safety Excellence Program (HSEP). The HSEP is a performance-based incentive program that integrates elements of three previous WSIB programs: the Small Business, Safety Groups and Workwell programs, says Rodney Cook, the WSIB’s vice-president of Workplace Health and Safety Services. The new program provides a roadmap for Ontario employers to improve the health and safety of their workplaces. It is designed for businesses that are just getting started, as well as for established firms that want to improve their health and safety systems and the processes they already have in place.

The HSEP connects businesses of all sizes with WSIB-approved organizations that have the expertise to help them develop and manage occupational health and safety (OHS) programs tailored to their needs. Besides this support and guidance from expert providers, other features of the HSEP include: rebates on WSIB premiums for participants who have implemented their commitments; recognition badges that businesses can use to convey their commitment to health and safety to employees, customers and investors; and opportunities to network and share best practices with other businesses. The key goal of the HSEP is to improve the health and safety culture in Ontario workplaces and thereby reduce work-related injuries and illnesses.

The WSIB consulted stakeholders about the design of the new program. One idea put forward was to ask participating employers to survey their employees using a heath and safety culture tool called the Institute for Work & Health Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM).

Modified IWH-OPM made available to HSEP participants

The IWH-OPM is an evidence-based, eight-item questionnaire used to help organizations assess and improve their health and safety performance. The IWH-OPM was developed and validated by the Institute in collaboration with health and safety professionals in Ontario. Workplaces across a wide range of sectors and sizes in Ontario participated in a study to test the validity of the tool. The results showed that IWH-OPM scores were correlated with both past and future OHS performance: workplaces that scored high on the IWH-OPM had lower injury claims rates in the three years before and after completing the questionnaire, whereas those that scored low on the IWH-OPM had higher injury claims rates before and after.

People surveyed using the IWH-OPM scored eight items regarding the percentage of time that each practice takes place at their organization (ranging from 0-20 per cent to 80-100 per cent of the time):

  1. Formal safety audits at regular intervals are a normal part of our business.
  2. Everyone at this organization values ongoing safety improvement in this organization.
  3. This organization considers safety at least as important as production and quality in the way work is done.
  4. Workers and supervisors have the information they need to work safely.
  5. Employees are always involved in decisions affecting their health and safety.
  6. Those in charge of safety have the authority to make the changes they have identified as necessary.
  7. Those who act safely receive positive recognition.
  8. Everyone has the tools and/or equipment they need to complete their work safely.

Senior managers, occupational health and safety professionals and joint health and safety committees can use the IWH-OPM as a leading indicator tool to measure their workplace’s health and safety performance and identify areas that need improvement before injuries and illnesses occur.

The WSIB decided to make a modified version of the IWH-OPM available to firms participating in the new Health and Safety Excellence Program and to encourage (but not mandate) its use. Five questions were added to the original eight, some of which came from a version of the IWH-OPM used in Manitoba. Examples of the additional questions include “Supervisors and workers take specific action to prevent future incidents” and “Workers feel free to voice concerns and make suggestions.” The WSIB also changed the scoring from percentage of time a statement holds true to strength of agreement or disagreement with a statement based on a five-point scale.

Tool allows for benchmarking, tracking trends over time

Since the launch of the HSEP in early 2020, about 2,500 Ontario firms have joined the program, and about 700 of them used the IWH-OPM as a measure of safety culture. Each firm has access to an aggregated summary of its workers’ anonymous responses. For benchmarking purposes, each firm also has access to the average scores recorded by all firms voluntarily participating in the survey. The WSIB also uses the average scores recorded by all firms to describe trends over time in the measure of health and safety culture.

The IWH-OPM is a useful, evidence-based tool that can help firms assess and improve their workplace health and safety culture, says Matt Wilson, the director of the WSIB’s Centre for Program Excellence. We are pleased to make it available as part of the toolkit for participants in the Health and Safety Excellence Program.

The IWH-OPM, in its original form or with modifications, has been a popular tool for the assessment of safety culture and to identify ways to improve occupational health and safety. As documented in other IWH impact case studies, workers' compensation boards and other agencies in Manitoba, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Alberta have also used the IWH-OPM.