What research can do: IWH safety culture tool used in WSIB’s Health and Safety Excellence program

A version of the Institute for Work & Health Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM) is used by Workplace Safety Insurance Board to let workplaces in its Health and Safety Excellence program measure their safety culture against a benchmark

Published: March 9, 2022

In 2020, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) launched the Health and Safety Excellence Program (HSEP). The performance-based incentive program integrates elements of three previous WSIB programs: the Small Business, Safety Groups and Workwell programs. The new program provides a roadmap for Ontario employers to improve the health and safety of their workplaces, says Rodney Cook, the WSIB’s vice-president of Workplace Health and Safety Services. 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 health and safety culture tool called the Institute for Work & Health Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM). 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.

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.

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 Health and Safety 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, agencies that have also used the IWH-OPM include SAFE Work Manitoba, WorkSafeBC, WorkSafeNB and the Workers’ Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island.

This column is based on an IWH impact case study published in March 2022, available at: www.iwh.on.ca/impact-case-studies.