Construction safety org adapts IWH research messages for tradesworker audience

About impact case studies

This impact case study is part of a series that illustrates the diffusion, uptake and outcomes of Institute for Work & Health research, based upon our research impact model. The model differentiates three types of impact:
Type 1: Evidence of diffusion of research
Type 2: Evidence of research informing decision-making at the policy or organizational level
Type 3: Evidence of societal impact

This is a Type 2 case study

Published: February 2024

A key priority of the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) is the diffusion of research results and evidence-based tools to people who can put this information into practice to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of workers. Sometimes this diffusion occurs directly, through such dissemination channels as IWH newsletters, social media, and briefings of key stakeholders. Sometimes it occurs indirectly—such as when intermediary organizations (for example, health and safety associations, employer organizations and unions) use IWH research findings to inform their members or clients about opportunities to improve the prevention of, or response to, work-related injury or illness.

The use of research by Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ) provides an example of how an intermediary can act as a catalyst for evidence-informed changes to workplace practices (indeed, the tagline of CHASNZ is A Catalyst for Change). CHASNZ is an industry-led charitable trust that aims to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of New Zealand construction workers. It delivers health and safety resources including guidance, standards, assessment tools, training and leadership programs to construction employers and workers through such channels as in-person presentations (including interactive toolbox talks), webinars, and web and social media presence.

One of the key programs of CHASNZ is Work Should Not Hurt, a participatory ergonomics program, developed and implemented through engagement with workers and employers, with the aim to improve the prevention and management of musculoskeletal injuries. The primary funder of this program is the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) of New Zealand. Several aspects of the Work Should Not Hurt program have been informed by IWH research and products.

We wanted our program to be evidence-based, says Chris Polaczuk, Program Manager, Ergonomics at CHASNZ. I’ve been familiar with the work of IWH since my time working in the Injury Prevention division of the ACC. When I joined CHASNZ a few years ago, I signed up for the IWH newsletter to stay informed about its work. The systematic reviews are especially helpful as they provide a summary of what well-designed research studies have to say about topics of importance to the work of CHASNZ.

For example, the decision to use a participatory approach to design and implement the Work Should Not Hurt program was informed by an IWH systematic review, conducted in 2005, on the effectiveness of participatory ergonomics interventions. We find the message still resonates and that a participatory approach works particularly well for our primary audience (tradespeople) because it helps them trust the intervention when they know that the solutions have been developed with input from themselves and/or their colleagues for their specific trades, says Polaczuk.

In addition, the Work Should Not Hurt resistance exercise program for scaffolders (people who build and dismantle scaffolds for the protection of people working at height) sets out a series of stretches workers can do using a resistance band. This aspect of the intervention was strongly influenced by another IWH systematic review, conducted in 2008, on the effectiveness of interventions to prevent upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders. This review recommended implementing a workplace-based resistance training exercise program based on strong evidence that such programs can help prevent and manage upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders.

The development of the exercise program was also motivated in part by the IWH resource, Implementing MSI Prevention Programs: Advice from Workplaces for Workplaces, which was developed with partners in Newfoundland and Labrador and provides research and practice evidence on practices and programs to prevent musculoskeletal injuries. This resource included a section on emerging evidence about exercise, which noted that exercise and physical activity programs such as stretching, resistance training and physical conditioning programs are beneficial for both musculoskeletal injuries prevention and symptom reduction. CHASNZ’s exercise program for scaffolders makes use of the scaffolds themselves to facilitate worker participation. With the IWH research recommending that the exercises needed to be work-based, it got us thinking that we could use a piece of system scaffolding, with convenient tie-off points at regular intervals, to attach our resistance bands. Every scaffolding yard could set up one of these exercise stations, says Polaczuk.

The Work Should Not Hurt program also includes guidance about facilitating successful stay at work or return to work in the event of injury. A key CHASNZ tool for this is the 7 Steps for Successful Stay at Work and Return to Work Programmes. It is closely modeled on the IWH Seven Principles for Successful Return to Work, which was derived in part from an IWH systematic review of the literature on return-to-work interventions. The IWH Seven Principles document resonated well with our experience and our interest in providing action-oriented advice to our stakeholders, says Kolose. It’s one of many examples of IWH research or evidence-based tools that we have found useful for our work.

The CHASNZ version is slightly modified from IWH’s text. For example, one of the seven principles, The employer makes an offer of modified work (also known as work accommodation) in injured/ill workers so that they can return early and safely to work activities suitable to their abilities, is shortened to: Provide alternative duties and modified work options to workers who are hurt or sick. The substance of the message in each case is almost the same, but CHASNZ has translated the text from the original documents into wording that they believe would work best in their context for their audiences. The language used in our messaging is influenced by what we hear on work sites, says Stephven Kolose, Principal Ergonomist at CHASNZ. We want the audience to read our posts like it was written by one of their own.

The CHASNZ case study highlights how IWH research and resources can inform messages that health and safety advocates and promoters bring to work sites. It is also a good example of how an intermediary with the interest and capacity can identify high-quality evidence relevant to their work—and put it into language that is tailored to their stakeholders. Such an approach can act as a catalyst for evidence-informed changes to workplace practices to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of workers.