IWH leading indicator tool wins over advocates across Canada

The eight-item IWH-OPM is adopted in several provinces as a measure of health and safety performance in workplaces

Published: August 10, 2015

How often do people who act safely at your organization receive positive recognition for it? Less than 20 per cent of the time, more than 80 per cent of the time, or somewhere in between? What about involving employees in decisions that affect their health and safety? How often does that take place?

Those are two of just eight questions that make up a leading indicator tool that has been shown in a sample of Ontario employers to predict injury rates over the next three years. That is, high scores on the measure are linked to a lower risk of claims in the future, whereas low scores are associated with a higher risk of claims in the future.

Called the Institute for Work & Health Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM), this eight-item questionnaire is a product of collaboration between Ontario health and safety associations and the Institute on leading indicators of occupational health and safety (OHS). OHS leading indicators are measures that paint a picture of health and safety performance before injuries and illnesses occur. When used by employers, workers and other parties in the prevention system, they can help identify aspects of workplace health and safety that need to improve in order to prevent accidents and disease.

A measure of OHS change

At the systems level, the IWH-OPM is being used in several different jurisdictions as part of an effort to strengthen safety performance in workplaces. One of these jurisdictions is New Brunswick, where WorkSafeNB teamed up with IWH in 2010 to validate the tool in a sample of more than 300 employers. The project confirmed to WorkSafeNB that the IWH-OPM predicts workplace injury rates better than an 18-item tool the agency was considering.

With that validation, the agency adopted the IWH-OPM as part of a suite of tools to observe changes in workplaces that are part of its Focus Firms program. The program targets firms with 40 or more employees that have a high accident count or a higher accident frequency than industry counterparts. As the agency works with these firms to help them develop an integrated health and safety system and reduce injuries, it is asking firms to complete the questionnaire at fixed points over the course of the three-year program to measure its impact.

IWH-OPM is also being used in Prince Edward Island, where building a safety culture has been identified by the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) as one of five strategic themes for 2013-2015. To encourage principles and practices that instill safety as an integral part of workplace life, the P.E.I. WCB has launched an employer survey to measure the shift in safety culture over time. To do so, it is using the IWH-OPM both to establish a baseline measure and to track change down the line.

In British Columbia, WorkSafeBC continues to evaluate and develop performance measures to provide ongoing monitoring of the effectiveness of its strategies. In an interim report dated February 2015, the IWH-OPM was identified as one survey tool that has been garnering interest. WorkSafeBC has provided the survey and information on its use to all the health and safety associations in B.C., the report states. The agency has also used the survey with key employers to provide them with insight into the occupational health and safety performance in their organizations.

This innovative tool is helping WorkSafeBC engage with employers in new and meaningful ways, the report adds. Future uses for this tool are currently being explored and are expected to help identify opportunities to raise health and safety awareness levels for employers and employees across industries in B.C.

Featured in guide for employers

In Alberta, in recognition of the value of leading indicators to help organizations take proactive action to improve the performance of their health and safety management systems, the province’s Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour department has produced a comprehensive guide on the topic. The guide provides in-depth discussions on an array of issues, such as which leading indicator measures would be most aligned with an organization’s goals, and how to implement the measures to best ensure effectiveness.

The guide recommends the IWH-OPM to help organizations establish where they are at in terms of occupational health and safety performance and, based on the score, the type of leading indicator measures that would work best for them. It also refers employers that are interested in benchmarking their scores against those of their peers to another set of leading indicators developed by IWH, called the Ontario Leading Indicators Project (OLIP).