Research team examines the relationship between business and OHS outcomes

Published: November 10, 2009

Most safety research does not examine business outcomes such as productivity and profits, while business research tends to “ignore” safety outcomes such as injury rates. Little is known about the relationship between these two areas.

A unique new research team identified this gap in their search of the studies in each field. The researchers hope to bridge this knowledge gap by exploring the relationship between business and OHS outcomes. The goal is to determine which practices – both in OHS and in management – enhance both workers’ health and a company’s bottom line.

The research team involves business experts from the Schulich School of Business at York University and Institute for Work & Health scientists. This pairing is a first for the Institute.

We’re very excited to partner with professionals whose expertise is in operational and management practices, says Institute Scientist Dr. Emile Tompa, a project co-investigator. Institute researchers bring the health and safety expertise and data knowledge to the table.

The project – funded by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Research Advisory Council – involves two phases. In the first phase, currently underway, researchers will conduct in-depth qualitative interviews with 10 companies about their OHS and business practices. The companies, which are from the manufacturing and transportation sectors, will provide detailed information about their production, operations, systems practices and performance.

In the next phase, the research team will share results from the qualitative interviews with stakeholders to obtain feedback on the information gained and develop key messages. Based on this phase, the research team will draft a comprehensive questionnaire that will be sent to about 200 firms across Ontario.

Stakeholder support

Support from stakeholders is a key component to the project’s success. Several organizations – including representatives from management and labour – are on board, says Dr. Mark Pagell, the study’s principal investigator and associate professor at the Schulich School of Business. Labour unions may focus on the well-being of employees and a company’s management may focus on operational practices. So the study’s objective is to determine the best ways to protect and enhance workers’ health while also improving a company’s bottom line, notes Pagell.

You can’t have a fully informed conversation unless you put these two pieces together. Decisions on health and safety will then be made with a deeper understanding of how these influences can benefit all involved, he says.