In 2017, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) launched the Health and Safety Index (HSI). The index is designed to provide, in one number, an indicator of the health and safety of Ontario’s workplaces as a whole and for each of five sectors in the province: manufacturing, construction, retail trade, health care and transportation.
The original index was based upon the performance of workplaces in five areas—prevention, empowerment, workplace culture, enforcement and injuries—with several measures for each component. The underlying data came from both administrative sources (i.e. WSIB, Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and Ministry of Attorney General) and from surveys of Ontario workers carried out by the WSIB annually. The survey items for workplace culture included questions from the Organizational Performance Metric developed by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH-OPM), an eight-item questionnaire originally designed to help organizations assess and improve their health and safety performance.
As this was the first time a tool such as this was developed, the WSIB also committed to reviewing the index methodology after three years. In 2019, the WSIB conducted a review of the methods used to arrive at the index score and made adjustments, including changes in the weighting of different indicators. These changes were incorporated in the calculation of the score for 2019. The 2019 province-wide score was 4.2 per cent lower than the score for 2018, indicating an abrupt decline in the health and safety of Ontario’s workplaces.
The 2019 HSI score resulted in concerns among some stakeholders that the index did not accurately reflect the changing nature of workplaces in Ontario. Given the significant changes to Ontario’s workplaces resulting from the pandemic, the WSIB decided to revisit the methods behind the index. It established an advisory group to guide this process. IWH, through its then-president, Dr. Cameron Mustard, and its then-scientific co-director (and now president), Dr. Peter Smith, participated in the advisory group and also provided advice directly to the WSIB on areas where the HSI could be improved.
In October 2021, the WSIB and advisory group completed their review of the methods used to compile the index. The HSI was revised, incorporating many of the suggestions provided by IWH.
Some of the suggestions related to the enforcement component of the index. The HSI was treating increases in orders per inspection as an improvement in the health and safety of Ontario workplaces, seeing this as indication of appropriate allocation of resources and heightened enforcement. IWH pointed out that, arguably, the desired direction for this measure should be reversed, since a decline in orders per inspection is likely to be a positive sign that fewer workplaces have hazards that require remediation. The revised index recognizes this change in desired direction.
In addition, IWH recommended that inspection orders be ‘weighted’ to emphasize more serious contraventions (such as those leading to orders to stop work) compared to minor issues (for example, failure to post the minutes of a joint health and safety committee meeting). The revised index also incorporates this advice.
Another measure in the enforcement component of the HSI is the number of proactive inspections per worker, with more inspections seen as a positive change. IWH noted that the measure could be heavily influenced by the number of inspectors available for enforcement activity. A better measure, to reflect compliance, would be the proportion of proactive inspections that do not result in an order. The revised index adopts this change.
IWH suggested that some questions from its OHS Vulnerability Measure might be useful to include in the surveys used to support the index. The revised HSI adopts five questions from the OHS Vulnerability Measure, in which survey respondents indicate the strength of their agreement with the following statements:
- Everyone receives the necessary workplace health and safety training when starting a job, changing jobs or using new techniques.
- Systems are in place to identify, prevent and deal with hazards at work.
- Communication about workplace health and safety procedures is done in a way that I can understand.
- I have enough time to complete my work tasks safely.
- There is regular communication between employees and management about safety issues.
IWH also made a technical suggestion about the construction of the index; namely, to restructure the HSI so that administrative data and survey data are in separate components. This suggestion is also adopted in the revised HSI.
Leading the development of the index and the revision process is Terrance D’souza, Executive Director, WSIB Advanced Analytics, who helped manage the collaborative review. D’souza is enthusiastic about IWH’s contribution.
We drew upon the IWH’s work on safety culture in the original index,” he says. “We value the Institute’s expertise in research methods and safety metrics.
Leading the discussion and promotion of the index among industry stakeholders is Rodney Cook, Vice President, WSIB Workplace Health and Safety Services and Prevention.
The opportunity to work with IWH and our other advisory group members on the redesign demonstrates the importance of integration and alignment when it comes to regulating workplace health and safety, says Cook.
IWH’s input on this project has been particularly helpful. Its insights not only guided many of the enhancements, but also helped to make the index a stronger, more reliable indicator across the province.