What research can do: IWH collaboration with partners led to safety culture and system audit tool

IRS CAAT, created for mining industry by Workplace Safety North with IWH expertise, now sought by workplaces beyond mining

Published: April 26, 2019

In 2013, the Ontario Ministry of Labour appointed an advisory group to review health and safety conditions in the province’s mining sector. Public consultations during the review brought to light the shortcomings of the sector’s internal responsibility system (IRS). The IRS concept is that everyone in an organization—from president to frontline worker—has the right and responsibility to participate in decisions affecting their health and safety.

When the advisory group reported in 2015, it recommended that the employer group, the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), work with labour representatives to develop IRS best- practice guidelines as an industry benchmark. The result was the development of a unique tool called the Internal Responsibility System Climate Assessment and Audit Tool (IRS CAAT)—designed to be both an audit tool of an organization’s occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) and a measure of perceptions of its safety culture. It’s the product of collaboration across the prevention system, with the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) playing a strong supportive role in creating and testing the tool.

The development of the tool began with a set of 56 best-practice statements describing a well-functioning IRS. That work drew on review consultations, interviews with subject-matter experts, academic publications, and documents prepared by standards or regulatory authorities. IWH President and Senior Scientist Dr. Cameron Mustard, a member of the advisory group, then led an IWH team that worked with the health and safety association Workplace Safety North (WSN) to turn the statements into a climate assessment questionnaire.

To test the questionnaire for its measurement properties, WSN and the OMA piloted the tool in six Ontario mining operations. IWH analysis of the results found that IRS perception scores were strongly correlated with the incidence of work-related injuries and illnesses. Mining operations that had higher IRS scores had lower frequencies of lost-time and no-lost-time workers’ compensation claims.

That was everything, says WSN Culture, Learning and Development Specialist Cindy Schiewek. The first thing we wanted to make sure with the IRS CAAT pilot was that the things we were measuring made a difference. With the link between IRS scores and injury rates established, WSN felt confident using the tool to identify aspects of an operation’s OHS performance that needed improvement.

The tool has now been used by 23 mining workplaces in Ontario, with nearly 7,000 people responding to date. This strong uptake was due in part to OMA recommendations in September 2017 that member mining operations take part.

Schiewek recounted one mining operation that, while performing relatively well, was also seeing its work injury and illness incidence rate plateau. When WSN ran the IRS CAAT at the operation, the company representative said to Schiewek, I’ve been doing audits for five years trying to figure out what’s happening, and nobody could help me move forward. Your tool has given me new information, and we can move forward with an action plan.

The tool has had such a great response that WSN has fielded requests from mining workplaces and associations across Canada, the United States and Russia. And WSN has also developed a leaner version, called CAAT Essentials, for workplaces outside the mining sector.

People are excited to have a new way of looking at things. The tool is giving them new information, says Schiewek, adding that it’s unlike anything on the market. It measures two sides of the coin. It measures systems and culture. The systems piece tells organizations what they need to do; the culture piece tells them what they actually do, she says.

WSN Vice President of Prevention Services Mike Parent credits the joint efforts of many different stakeholders. The IRS CAAT would not exist today without the collaborative partnership between IWH and WSN, and the support of organized labour and the Ontario mining industry, he says.

This column is based on an IWH impact case study, published in December 2018, available at: www.iwh.on.ca/impact-case-studies.