What research can do: Sector safety group helps members measure OHS with IWH safety culture tool

Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association encourages member firms to use the eight-item IWH-OPM to assess OHS performance over time—both at individual firms and across the industry as a whole

Published: November 25, 2022

A few years ago, the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA) began looking for a tool to measure the occupational health and safety (OHS) culture of its member firms. A director on its board had suggested that the SCSA find a way to measure OHS performance, one that went beyond workers’ compensation claim rates, which are lagging performance indicators. The SCSA looked for ways to assess safety culture, which refers to the set of shared values and beliefs in a workplace about OHS and can be a predictor of future performance. The SCSA decided to use the Institute for Work & Health’s Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM).

To help it gather and analyze OHS data, SCSA hired EHS Analytics, a Calgary-based firm that specializes in health and safety data, research and machine learning. SCSAand EHS Analytics considered several tools. The eight-item IWH-OPM was selected because it is concise, easy to administer and easy to use.

We were looking for a tool that would be simple for our members to use and that could also provide a benchmark of safety culture in the Saskatchewan construction industry, says Edward Pyle, Vice-President, SCSA. The IWH-OPM fits the bill.

EHS Analytics worked with the SCSA to administer the IWH-OPM to SCSA members, with a plan to conduct the survey every six months. Participation is voluntary, but SCSA members are encouraged to complete the survey and can do so at no cost. Members then get access to a dashboard that allows them to see their firm’s results for each of the eight survey questions, their overall score and a guide to interpret these figures. They also receive average industry results and trends over time, broken down by firm size and three subsectors.

As of October 2022, the IWH-OPM had been administered three times to SCSA members. At least 400 surveys were completed each time (and over 550 in the third instance). While most of those completing the first three surveys were office workers or managers, EHS Analytics also implemented new approaches to reach out to front-line workers. The percentage of surveys completed by professionals and front-line workers steadily increased over the first three surveys, from 21 per cent in October 2021 to 28 per cent in April 2022, and 35 per cent in October 2022.

Once the survey has been conducted for a few years, EHS Analytics will be able to see if scores on the IWH-OPM are predictive of future OHS performance. The IWH-OPM is a valuable tool to measure workplace OHS culture, says Dr. Mohammad Khalkhali, Data Science and Analytics Team Lead, EHS Analytics. We will also be exploring its efficacy as a leading indicator of OHS outcomes in Saskatchewan’s construction industry. If so, firms receiving lower scores could be motivated to improve workplace OHS policies and practices to reduce injury risk.

Some interesting findings have already emerged from early analyses. Some SCSA members (but not all) participate in the Certificate of Recognition (COR®) program, which verifies that companies have implemented a comprehensive health and safety management system. EHS Analytics has found that, on average, COR®-certified members obtain statistically significantly higher scores on the IWH-OPM than those without COR® certification.

The firm also found that IWH-OPM participants with perfect scores had significantly fewer days lost due to workers’ compensation claims in the previous three years than those without perfect scores.

The IWH-OPM is already helping our members to measure and improve safety culture, which, in turn, will improve safety outcomes, says Pyle. It also helps SCSA advisors to have informed conversations with their clients. We are encouraging our members to participate in the IWH-OPM surveys so that they, and the industry as a whole, can benefit from the data that we are gathering and analyzing. 

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