What research can do: How IWH research is responding to COVID-19

Published: May 11, 2020

The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) is marking this, the 100th issue of our flagship newsletter At Work, during extraordinary times—the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has brought into high relief just how important it is to understand the work-and-health interface.

There is little debate that COVID-19 is dramatically affecting the work and health of people in Canada and around the world. And their experiences are varying widely. Some are still at their physical workplace, potentially risking exposure to the virus as they provide health-care and other essential services to the public. Others are working remotely in new work environments, perhaps balancing caregiving responsibilities or dealing with isolation. And many have lost their employment altogether or seen large reductions in their work hours, possibly facing an uncertain financial future.

Conducting research to understand the experiences of all these workers, and the effects of these experiences on both their physical and mental health, is essential – both now and into the future as economies re-open. This research knowledge base will help guide policy-makers and workplace parties in the development of labour-market and health policies and programs, and help them understand if these programs and policies are effective over time.

At IWH, we have begun filling this need through research aimed at understanding how work is affecting health, and how health is affecting work, during the largest disruptive event of the 21st century. We are modifying some of our ongoing studies, where appropriate, to capture new information about the impact of COVID-19 on work and health among our study participants (see the next article). We are also applying for new funding to undertake work specifically focused on the work and health effects of COVID-19 in Canada.

Our research will address the impact of COVID-19 on different types of work, including workers in precarious job contexts; changes in workplace exposures and injury claims; the ways that workplaces are adapting, and their successes and challenges in sustaining productivity while providing support and protection to workers; and the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the mental and physical health of workers.

Whether adapting current or conducting new research, we promise, as always, to use rigourous and trusted scientific methods to ensure the research we produce is of the highest quality. We will use validated approaches and methods with respect to who we collect data from, how we collect that data, what questions we ask, how we analyze the data, and how we interpret the findings. We will also ensure our studies are critiqued by our peers, both internally at IWH and externally as part of the peer-review process. While our insistence on rigour will take more time, it assures you that our studies will add to the evidence base in important and trusted ways, and not add to the noise and confusion as much information is currently doing.

When our findings are ready for wider dissemination, we will share them with you through our normal channels: this newsletter, IWH News, our website, and our IWH Speaker Series. And, as always, we will also publish them in peer-reviewed journals to ensure rigorous standards of scientific oversight are met.