Breakthrough change: understanding why and how workplaces make large improvements in OHS performance

Reasons for the study

We need to better understand the processes and critical factors involved in “breakthrough change” (i.e. large and intentional reductions in workplaces’ rates of injuries) in order to improve occupational health and safety (OHS) performance. Past research on change in the workplace has typically evaluated the effectiveness of narrowly defined interventions—and usually found small or no changes. In this study, three interrelated “breakthrough change” projects focus on rare occurrences of especially large OHS improvement over a decade-long period, and seek to understand the hows and whys behind this improvement.

Objectives of the study

  • Determine how often breakthrough change (BTC) occurs in Ontario firms
  • Identify and describe the critical success factors common across BTC firms
  • Develop and test a BTC conceptual model

Anticipated results/impact

Understanding the critical success factors in BTC can assist employers, health and safety associations, joint health and safety committees, the Ontario Ministry of Labour and other prevention authorities in designing strategies and programs to improve health and safety in the workplace.

Related scientific publications

Robson LS, Amick B, Moser C, Pagell M, Mansfield E, Shannon HS, Swift MB, Hogg-Johnson S, Cardoso S, South H. Important factors in common among organizations making large improvement in OHS performance: results of an exploratory multiple case study. Safety Science. 2016;86:211-227. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2016.02.023.

Related presentations

Related interviews and articles

Success stories offer new guidance to organizations on path of OHS change . At Work: Institute for Work & Health; No. 78, Fall 2014.
OHS champion has pivotal role in breakthrough change: study. At Work: Institute for Work & Health; No. 76, Spring 2014.
Breakthrough change: Finding and describing firms that make large OHS improvements. At Work: Institute for Work & Health; No. 70, Fall 2012.

Project status


Research team

Lynda Robson, Institute for Work & Health (PI)
Ben Amick, Institute for Work & Health
Siobhan Cardoso, Institute for Work & Health
Sheilah Hogg-Johnson, Institute for Work & Health
Cindy Moser, Institute for Work & Health
Kathy Padkapayeva, Institute for Work & Health
Michael Swift, Institute for Work & Health
Harriet South, Institute for Work & Health
Emile Tompa, Institute for Work & Health
Elizabeth Mansfield, Trillium Health Partners
Mark Pagell, University of Dublin
Harry Shannon, McMaster University

Participating organizations

Business Council on Occupational Health and Safety
Infrastructure Health and Safety Association
Ontario Ministry of Labour
Public Services Health & Safety Association
Workers Health & Safety Centre
Workplace Safety & Prevention Services

Funded by

Workplace Safety & Insurance Board of Ontario's Research Advisory Committee, Ontario Ministry of Labour