In 2013, in response to the deaths of two workers in a Sudbury mine, the Ontario Ministry of Labour appointed an advisory group to review health and safety conditions in the province’s mining sector. That review brought to light the shortcomings of the sector’s internal responsibility system (IRS). The IRS concept is that everyone in an organization—from president to frontline worker—has the right and responsibility to participate in decisions affecting their health and safety. However, during public consultations, the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review Advisory Group heard from labour representatives that worker safety concerns were often not addressed.
When the Advisory Group reported in 2015, one of its recommendations was that the employer group, the Ontario Mining Association (OMA),
work with labour representatives to develop Internal Responsibility System best practices guidelines as an industry benchmark. The result was the development of a unique measure called the Internal Responsibility System Climate Assessment and Audit Tool (IRS CAAT)—a product of collaboration across the prevention system, with the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) playing a strong supportive role in creating and testing the tool.
IWH president supports bipartite working group
During the review, IWH President and Senior Scientist Dr. Cameron Mustard and member of the Advisory Group, had been supporting a bipartite labour and management working group looking at the IRS in the mining sector. When the working group faced internal disagreement about whether roles and responsibilities in the IRS should be spelled out, Mustard proposed that the group develop a set of best practice statements describing what a healthy and well-functioning IRS would look like.
The drafting of these best practice statements drew on review consultations, academic publications, 25 interviews with subject-matter experts, and documents prepared by standards or regulatory authorities. The resulting 56 statements, which received support from both management and labour representatives, were described in the Advisory Group’s final report as
a significant and tangible expression of the collaborative work done by labour and employer organizations to find a common understanding of how the IRS can best be expressed in the underground mining sector.
To follow through on the review recommendation to develop an industry benchmark, Mustard then led an IWH research team that worked with a health and safety association, Workplace Safety North (WSN), to turn the best practice statements into an audit tool that a third party could use to assess the health of the IRS at a mining operation. The resulting climate assessment questionnaire forms one part of the two-part IRS CAAT (the other being an audit of the mining operation’s occupational health and safety management system).
Pilot results build confidence in tool
To test the questionnaire for its measurement properties, WSN and the OMA piloted the tool in six mining operations in Ontario. At each pilot site, all managers, supervisors and workers were invited to complete the climate assessment questionnaire. The IWH analysis of the results found that the tool had strong internal consistency (that is, similar questions tended to produce similar answers) and identified important differences in perceptions of the functioning of the internal responsibility system across different workplaces. And importantly, the analysis demonstrated that the average IRS perception scores in a mining operation were strongly correlated with the incidence of work-related injuries and illnesses. Mining operations that had higher IRS scores had lower frequencies of lost-time and no-lost-time workers’ compensation claims.
That was everything, says WSN Culture, Learning and Development Specialist Cindy Schiewek.
The first thing we wanted to make sure with the IRS CAAT pilot was that the things we were measuring made a difference. With the link between IRS scores and injury rates established, WSN felt confident using the tool to identify aspects of an operation’s OHS performance that needed improvement.
The tool has now been used by 23 mining workplaces in Ontario, with nearly 7,000 people responding to date. This strong uptake was due in part to the endorsement of the OMA in September 2017, recommending that member mining operations to take part.
Schiewek recounted one mining operation that, although it was performing relatively well, had been seeing its work injury and illness incidence rate plateauing for a number of years. When WSN ran the IRS CAAT at the operation, the company representative said to Schiewek,
I’ve been doing audits for five years trying to figure out what’s happening and nobody could help me move forward. Your tool has given me new information, and we can move forward with an action plan.
WSN fielding requests from across Canada and beyond
The tool has had such a great response that WSN has fielded requests from mining workplaces and associations across Canada, the United States and even from as far away as Russia. And WSN has also developed a leaner version of IRS CAAT called CAAT Essentials for use by workplaces outside the mining sector, allowing everyone to benefit from the tool.
People are excited to have a new way of looking at things. The tool is giving them new information, says Schiewek. Unlike anything on the market, the tool simultaneously assesses both the occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) and perceptions of the safety culture at mining operations.
It measures two sides of the coin, she says. It measures systems and culture. The systems piece tells organizations what they need to do; the culture piece tells them what they actually do.”
WSN Vice President of Prevention Services Mike Parent credits the joint efforts of many different stakeholders for the final product.
The IRS CAAT would not exist today without the collaborative partnership between the Institute for Work & Health and Workplace Safety North, and the support of organized labour and the Ontario mining industry, he says.