IWH tool comes out ahead in Australian study of OHS leading indicator tools

The Institute’s OHS Vulnerability Measure was one of two tools recommended by Monash University evaluation team for use by state workers’ compensation board

Published: February 7, 2023

In a study of five workplace safety leading indicator tools conducted at Australia’s Monash University, a questionnaire developed by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) came out ahead for its ability to measure workers’ likelihood of reporting two lagging indicators—near misses and physical injury.

The OHS Vulnerability Measure, a survey designed to assess worker exposures to common hazards while lacking adequate occupational health and safety (OHS) protection, was one of two leading indicator tools that the study team recommended for use by WorkSafe Victoria as a result of the findings.

The other leading indicator tool recommended by the Healthy Working Lives Research Group at Monash was the Psychosocial Job Quality Index (PJQI). It was found to be the best of the five in picking up the likelihood of reporting a mental injury, the third of three lagging indicators of interest to the study team.

The two measures “appear to be most suitable for future use in a refined questionnaire for the specific purposes of identifying at-risk workers,” stated the study report (PDF, 1.8MB), noting that further validation and testing of the refined questionnaire would be an important next step.

Commenting on the study, IWH President and Senior Scientist Dr. Peter Smith says the findings are encouraging. At the Institute, we’ve conducted several studies validating the OHS Vulnerability Measure, but it’s always gratifying to see it stand up to evaluation by other research organizations and in non-Canadian samples of workers, says Smith, who led the team that developed the OHS Vulnerability Measure and the framework behind it.

We’re encouraged to see our potential contribution in what may be an important initiative by WorkSafe Victoria to regularly collect information that helps it both address the risks of work-related injury and illness, and monitor changes in risk over time—especially in response to system-level activities.

Australian study of OHS

Reasons for the study

The study began when WorkSafe Victoria, the workers’ compensation authority in the Australian state of Victoria, asked the Healthy Working Lives Research Group to support the development of a leading indicator questionnaire.

The questionnaire would be designed to enable WorkSafe Victoria to identify workers in the state who are at higher risk of work-related harm. It would also provide a new source of data that could help point to new or better preventive solutions and help detect changes in workplace risks over time, in response to prevention activities.

(Leading indicators in OHS are measures of health and safety performance that help predict injuries and illnesses. The use of leading indicators allows workplaces and system partners to monitor the factors that contribute to the risk of future injury or illness and take preventive steps before the injuries or illnesses occur. Lagging indicators, on the other hand, are measures of OHS performance that are based on incidents that have already occurred. Examples include injuries, illnesses, lost time due to injuries/illnesses, among others.)

The study team tested five leading indicator tools, including two developed by IWH. In addition to the two measures already mentioned, the team tested Monash’s version of the IWH Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM), the Neal & Griffin Safety Climate Subscale and the Psychosocial Safety Climate.

Scores on all five of the leading indicator measures showed positive and statistically significant associations with the three outcomes of interest. These were whether, in the past 12 months, workers reported 1) a physical injury or illness, 2) a mental injury or illness, or 3) a near miss. (A near  miss is usually defined as an incident that did not result in injury or property damage, but easily could have).

Of the five, the Institute’s OHS Vulnerability Measure demonstrated the strongest relationship with self-reported physical injury. People rated as high-risk on this scale were 2.9 times more likely to report a physical injury in the past 12 months than people rated as low- to moderate-risk.

On the risk of mental injury, the PJQI demonstrated the strongest relationship. People rated as high-risk on this scale were 4.0 times more likely to report a mental injury in the past 12 months, compared to people rated as low- to moderate-risk.

On the likelihood of reporting near misses at work, the OHS Vulnerability Measure again demonstrated the strongest relationship. People rated as high-risk on this scale were 3.0 times more likely to report a near miss in the past 12 months than people rated as low- to moderate-risk.

The study team also considered several other criteria in making its recommendation. It found that the OHS Vulnerability Measure and the PJQI were the only two measures that had 100 per cent completion rates—indicating that these measures were both easy to fill out and contained questions that were relevant to a broad cross-section of workers.

As well, of the five measures, the team found the least overlap between the OHS Vulnerability Measure and PJQI. Although leading indicators tend to assess similar concepts, the report notes, the best use of survey time may be in measures that identify different groups of workers and workplaces experiencing different types of risks (e.g. psychosocial risks, physical hazard exposure risks).

The other IWH tool tested, the IWH-OPM, was found to have moderate association with lagging indicators. Workers rated as high-risk on the OPM were 2.3 times more likely to report a physical injury or a near miss, and 2.6 times more likely to report a mental injury.

Learn about the IWH-OPM

How the study was conducted

The study was conducted in October to November 2021, with a sample of 2,053 workers in Victoria from a wide range of workplaces and industries. The workers were asked to complete a telephone or web-based survey that included questions from the five leading indicator measures, the three outcomes of interest (a self-reported physical or mental injury or a self-reported near miss, during the previous 12 months) and one additional question on whether they observed an injury or illness incurred by co-workers. They were also asked about a range of worker and workplace characteristics.

About one in five (19.1 per cent) of the study sample reported at least one work-related physical injury or illness in the past 12 months. About one in four (24.9 per cent) reported a mental illness or injury during that period. A slightly smaller proportion (18.4 per cent) reported a near miss at their main job. Participants were asked to report only injuries or illnesses that were sustained at their main job and required time off or medical treatment.

The team also found several worker and workplace characteristics associated with high-risk ratings on the five measures. Women were more likely to report psychological risk and men were more likely to report physical health risks. In addition, workers were more likely to be rated as high-risk if they:

  • held multiple jobs or worked for multiple employers;
  • reported a weekly household income below $1,500;
  • worked for a government employer;
  • worked in the education and training or retail trade sector; or
  • predominantly worked at the worksite of their employer.

Workers were more likely to be rated as low- to moderate-risk if they:

  • were a business owner;
  • worked for a single employer;
  • worked in the professional, scientific and technical services sector; or
  • had higher levels of education.