IWH model on breakthrough change used as foundation for WSPS small business strategy

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: December 2017

There are approximately 143,000 small businesses in Ontario’s agricultural, industrial/manufacturing and service sectors. Often characterized as hard to reach, their concerns are mainly around resource limitations—particularly time and money. So small businesses are a tough nut to crack for Ontario’s health and safety associations. With several competing priorities in a day’s work, from an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective, small businesses need solutions that can be easily implemented and want to do what they have to in order to comply, says Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) Small Business Director Harry Stewart. 

Born out of the idea that every business, but especially a small business, is concerned about the efficient deployment of resources, WSPS wove together years of learning from their small business consultants with research evidence, and built their Small Business Centre. Aiming to directly target and reach out to small businesses across the province, the centre provides OHS business consultation and online resources. 

Informing approach to engaging small business owners

With the help of the WSPS research department, Stewart searched for evidence to determine the best approach for engaging clients through their Small Business Centre. And he turned to the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) website—a resource he uses often. 

On the IWH website, Stewart found IWH Scientist Dr. Lynda Robson’s model on breakthrough change (BTC) in the workplace. The BTC model is … kind of a foundation for how we’re moving forward, he explains. We’re using it as an approach. Everything we’re looking at regarding outreach and solution development is built around aspects of the model. 

Robson and her team defined BTC as large, intentional, firm-level improvement in the prevention of injury or illness, and their work illustrated the factors critical to large and sustained organizational change. Robson developed a model that speaks to the process and commonalities among organizations that have made large improvements in OHS. According to the model, BTC 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.”

Targeting the 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. 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. That focus on the knowledge transformation leader was through BTC, says Stewart.

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 BTC as a guiding foundation, Stewart and his team have created infographics, videos and business cases to increase access and encourage adoption of OHS information, all posted to their Small Business Centre website. In 2017, using the model once again, they 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 OHS change from a perspective other than it being a regulatory or legislated requirement. 

The WSPS approach has been a composite of our field intelligence, my own experience, the research that has been done....It is about integrating health and safety into how they [small business] work, not the other way around, says Stewart. The BTC research provided a framework for practical change, and WSPS demonstrated how it can be used to support a successful client-focused program.

Read more about the application of the BTC model in the Breakthrough Change in OHS: Case study series.