Grant round-up: Measuring OHS investment, impact of mandatory training and more

Diversity in research topics and methods seen in upcoming projects at Institute for Work & Health

Published: August 10, 2015

One of the strengths of the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) is the diversity of disciplines represented in the research staff. The resulting diversity of research strategies and research questions can be seen in this slate of upcoming (IWH) projects. They run from natural experiments and intervention research to economic evaluations and systematic reviews.

Assessing the impact of mandatory training

On July 1, 2014, Ontario introduced a mandatory awareness training program aimed at increasing worker and supervisor knowledge of basic workplace health and safety rights and responsibilities under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. How effective will this program be at increasing worker awareness and, in turn, decreasing the number of workers in vulnerable work situations?

That’s what IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Peter Smith and his team are setting out to explore, thanks to funding from the Ministry of Labour Research Opportunities Program and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Operation Grant Intervention Research program.

Smith’s team enjoys the rare advantage of having undertaken a survey measuring occupational health and safety (OHS) vulnerability among employees in Ontario and another province prior to the effective date of this mandatory training regulation. In May and June 2014, Smith tested a 29-item measure of OHS vulnerability, which his team had previously developed, in a sample of 1,800 workers in Ontario and British Columbia. The research team is now conducting follow-up surveys through mid-2016. Any change found in the Ontario samples can be compared against changes in the B.C. samples, which will act as a control.

Undertaking intervention studies in the area of OHS are always challenging for a number of reasons, says Smith. We have been lucky in that we developed our measure of OHS vulnerability, which includes a specific section on awareness, and were able to use this measure on a group targeted by this training requirement. It’s quite a rare opportunity.

Delivering essential skills along with health and safety training

Can OHS training lead to better outcomes if it also addresses gaps in essential skills? That’s the question at the heart of one project led by Director of Knowledge Transfer and Exchange Dr. Ron Saunders.

According to the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills under the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, nearly half of working-age Canadians score below the level required to function effectively in today’s knowledge-based economy—in both literacy and numeracy. However, most adults with low literacy are in the labour force, and most experience skills gaps in very specific areas.

In this project, Saunders’ team will examine whether embedding job-related numeracy and literacy skills in an OHS training program, targeting a few specific skill gaps, can improve OHS knowledge and safety performance.

In collaboration with the training centre of Local 506 of the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), the team will offer a modified training program on hoisting and rigging, based on curriculum initially developed by another project partner, the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA). The essential skills curriculum will touch on job-related numeracy skills and OHS-related document interpretation. The team will use knowledge tests as well as observations, both during the training and after, to assess the impact of this training on OHS knowledge and safety practices.

Measuring the level of employer investment in health and safety

No research evidence is currently available on the amount Ontario employers invest in protecting the health and safety of workers. In an innovative study conducted across 19 countries by the International Social Security Association and the German Social Accident Insurance Fund, researchers estimated that firm-level investments on OHS at 330 companies was more than 1,200 euros per employee.

Thanks to funding by the Ministry of Labour Research Opportunities Program, a team led by IWH President Dr. Cameron Mustard and Senior Scientist Dr. Emile Tompa will use that study design to arrive at an estimate in a sample of 350 Ontario employers. The researchers will interview key people at organizations that have agreed to share information about spending in several areas. Because the employers in this study also took part in IWH’s leading indicators research, the team will also study the relationship between the amount organizations spend on OHS and leading indicator scores.

Reviewing the evidence on osteoarthritis and work

Previous research estimates that, by 2020, one in four Canadian adults will live with a form of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Although arthritis is often thought of as a disease of aging, about six in 10 people with arthritis are under the age of 65 and still in the workforce. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, inflicting significant pain, stiffness, swelling and fatigue on those with the condition.

In a new project funded by WorkSafeBC, a systematic review team led by Associate Director of Research Dr. Monique Gignac and Director of Research Operations Emma Irvin will look for work-related factors that may contribute to the development or aggravation of osteoarthritis over time.