What research can do: OHS change model informs WSPS’s approach to small businesses

Ontario health and safety association taps into model’s idea of “knowledge transformation leader” to advocate for change

Published: April 26, 2018

Small businesses are a tough nut to crack for Ontario’s health and safety system. They can be hard to reach, and they regularly juggle competing priorities with limited resources of time and money.

With this in mind, Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS)—Ontario’s health and safety association serving the manufacturing, services and agricultural sectors—started up a Small Business Centre. Directly targeted to small businesses across the province, the centre provides occupational health and safety (OHS) business consultation and online resources.

But how best to engage small business in the centre? As he was looking for answers, WSPS Small Business Director Harry Stewart turned to the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) website—a resource he uses often. There, he found IWH Scientist Dr. Lynda Robson’s model on breakthrough change in the workplace.

Robson defined breakthrough change as large, intentional, firm-level improvement in the prevention of injury or illness, and her work illustrated the factors critical to large and sustained organizational change. She developed a model that speaks to the processes and factors in common among organizations that have made large improvements in OHS.

According to the model, breakthrough change occurs in three phases: initiation, transformation and outcome. Initiation includes the integration of new knowledge into the organization through the work of a “knowledge transformation leader."

One of the first things Stewart and his team did was to overlay Robson’s model onto their view of small business needs. The concept of “knowledge transformation leader” jumped out. For us, whatever we develop or when we reach out, we understand our target is knowledge transformation leaders, and what we produce has to be suitable for them.

Indeed, the concept of the knowledge transformation leader is key to the Small Business Centre’s framework, says Stewart. There needs to be an OHS advocate [on the] inside. It can be anybody, from a high-level manager, to shop floor worker, to an OHS coordinator. And for a small business with resource limitations, the fact that a knowledge transformation leader can be anyone—not just a designated health and safety professional—is reassuring, he adds.

Using the breakthrough change model as a guide, Stewart and his team created infographics, videos and business cases to increase access to, and encourage adoption of, OHS information—all posted to their Small Business Centre website. The breakthrough change model is…kind of a foundation for how we’re moving forward, Stewart says. We’re using it as an approach. Everything we’re looking at regarding outreach and solution development is built around aspects of the model.

In 2017, using the model once again, Stewart and his team piloted a program called the Small Business Advisory Service (for organizations with under 20 employees). By connecting businesses with Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) volunteers providing one-on-one consultation services, the Small Business Advisory Service strips away the intimidation factor that often daunts small, low-capacity businesses already facing barriers to implementing OHS improvements. It is designed to encourage change from a perspective other than OHS being a regulatory or legislated requirement.

The WSPS approach to small business is a composite of our field intelligence, my own experience, the research that has been done.... It is about integrating health and safety into how [small businesses] work, not the other way around, says Stewart. The breakthrough change research plays a part in this approach, providing a framework for practical change through a successful client-focused program.

To read more about the model, and the research behind it, go to the Breakthrough change project page.

This column is based upon an IWH impact case study originally published in December 2017.