Prevention team develops tool to measure leading indicators

There may be a time in the near future where a simple tool may help predict a firm’s future injury experience – and help to focus health and safety efforts.

Published: July 20, 2010

Traditionally, an organization’s injury and illness rates are used to help manage occupational health and safety performance. This is known as a trailing indicator because the injuries have already occurred. Recently, Ontario’s prevention system tasked a team – which included Institute for Work & Health (IWH) Scientific Director Dr. Benjamin Amick – to develop a tool to measure leading indicators. A leading indicator provides a sense of an organization’s ongoing health and safety initiatives, and its potential for injuries and illnesses before they occur.

Developing a tool to measure leading indicators can help predict workplace injury, notes Amick. Ultimately, the tool could identify very tangible things that organizations can work on to improve occupational health and safety performance and prevent injuries and illness.

In the fall of 2008, a committee of representatives from Ontario’s health and safety system began to develop an eight-item organizational performance metric, or OPM (see sidebar).

Chris McKean of the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association is part of the team. “Once the eight-item metric was developed, health and safety association (HSA) consultants were then trained in how to administer the survey to their membership,” he says. In total, 808 questionnaires were completed by 642 firms, which represented eight HSAs and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW). The firms spanned across Ontario and varied in size. All questionnaires were returned to IWH, which provided a secure repository for this data.

Initial results

Respondents from 642 firms were asked to answer the eight pilot questions. Once these questions were answered, they were returned to IWH researchers who then assigned values to the responses. This resulted in the development of the organizational performance metric score, which ranged from eight to 40. Subsequently, IWH staff were able to link each firm’s OPM score to their past injury experience.

Results indicated that the lower the OPM score, the poorer the injury experience a firm had. Our committee had hypothesized that this might occur, but we did not expect the results to be so clean, notes McKean. This OPM is relevant to all firms, regardless of industry or size.

However, there were some limitations of the tool, most notably in how the survey data was collected. When the HSA consultant collected the information from the firm over the phone, the firm was more likely to score itself at the higher end of the OPM range. Although we can’t pinpoint why this is, we will be exploring this in future, says McKean.

And, although the results of this pilot study are encouraging, Amick cautions that the tool has not been validated – or in other words, it hasn’t been shown that it works in the way that it’s supposed to. Future work will also consider how well the tool predicts future injury experience.