What research can do: SAFE Work Manitoba incorporates IWH tool into safety culture framework

‘Credibility’ a reason provincial agency uses IWH-OPM to define safety culture and measure improvement efforts

Published: February 13, 2019

It was the year 2013, and Manitoba’s workplace injury rates had been declining for a decade. To make sure this trend continued, the province set out to renew and strengthen its injury and illness prevention strategy, as spelled out in Manitoba’s Five-Year Plan for Workplace Injury and Illness Prevention. One of the strategy’s four principles was the importance of building a strong culture of workplace safety that prioritizes genuine injury prevention. Tasked with changing the safety culture in the province was SAFE Work Manitoba.

We had a five-year operational plan that laid out initiatives related to building a culture of safety, says Sue Roth, safety culture specialist at SAFE Work Manitoba. But we were missing a definition of safety culture. So we had to determine what we meant by it, and how we would evaluate if we were making progress.

That was when SAFE Work Manitoba turned to the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). “We knew of the Institute’s work on the IWH Organizational Performance Metric,” says Roth, referring to an evidence-based, eight-item questionnaire that helps organizations assess and improve their health and safety performance. And the fact that it was being used across jurisdictions in Canada was of interest to us. We saw some prospects for using it in Manitoba to assess our own safety culture.

SAFE Work Manitoba contacted IWH’s Dr. Ben Amick, a senior scientist and the researcher leading the Institute’s work on the IWH-OPM tool. SAFE Work Manitoba entered into a formal agreement with Amick to provide support in a number of areas, including defining “safety culture,” developing evaluation frameworks and recommending ways in which the IWH-OPM could fit into the initiative. We wanted to be able to leverage work that already had credibility and scientific validity, says Rick Rennie, a safety culture specialist working alongside Roth. He adds that working with a research organization brought important benefits.

Incorporating advice from an established research organization was a way we could reassure stakeholders, such as employers and industry associations, that we weren’t engaging in some kind of experiment with our safety culture strategy, he says. It was based on sound research by a solid research provider.

With support from Amick, the safety culture team at SAFE Work Manitoba built a number of important components of the safety culture framework, which was introduced to the province in the summer of 2017. First was a clear definition of a positive safety culture, along with a list of the values and beliefs incorporated in the definition. Second were two evaluation frameworks: one was for evaluating success in building a strong safety culture and the other was for evaluating a certification program designed to make workplaces safer and provide financial incentives to employers for doing so—a key component of the safety culture initiative.

Third was the development of what the team colloquially referred to as the IWH-OPM plus four, which was subsequently rebranded the Safety Culture Assessment. This assessment is used to help workplaces understand and improve their safety culture and its relationship to their safety and health efforts, and to assess whether or not safety certification is helping to improve a workplace’s safety and health management system in reducing the risk of injury and illness. The assessment is completed twice prior to certification, and then annually with each maintenance audit. At this point, it is not used to determine whether or not an employer becomes certified.

Early results of the Safety Culture Assessment and the annual Safety Culture Index indicate positive assessments for most safety culture indicators. However, because these initiatives are fairly new, not enough information is available to identify trends over time. As SAFE Work Manitoba enters a new five-year planning cycle, it will continue to track results and monitor progress. We certainly have the building blocks in place, and we hope to continue, says Roth.

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