Safety culture framework in Manitoba incorporates IWH expertise, tools

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: November 2018

It was the year 2013, and Manitoba’s workplace injury rates had been declining for a decade. To make sure this trend continued, the province set out to renew and strengthen its injury and illness prevention strategy, as spelled out in Manitoba’s Five-Year Plan for Workplace Injury and Illness Prevention. Based on public and stakeholder consultations, the strategy centred on four principles, the first being the importance of building a strong culture of workplace safety that prioritizes genuine injury prevention. Reducing workplace injury and illness begins with effective tools to build a strong culture of workplace safety, the plan stated.

Tasked with changing the safety culture in the province was SAFE Work Manitoba, created in 2013 to consolidate the prevention activities of the province’s Workers Compensation Board (WCB) and the provincial government’s Workplace Safety and Health Branch. Sue Roth, a safety culture specialist, was an early member of the team. She was recently joined by a second safety culture specialist, Rick Rennie.

Roth remembers the early days. We had a five-year operational plan that laid out initiatives related to building a culture of safety, she says. But we were missing a definition of safety culture. So we had to determine what we meant by it, and how we would evaluate if we were making progress.

That was when SAFE Work Manitoba turned to the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). We knew of the Institute’s work on the IWH Organizational Performance Metric, says Roth, referring to an evidence-based, eight-item questionnaire that helps organizations assess and improve their health and safety performance to prevent future injuries or illnesses. And the fact that it was being used across jurisdictions in Canada was of interest to us. We saw some prospects for using it in Manitoba to assess our own safety culture.

SAFE Work Manitoba contacted IWH’s Dr. Ben Amick, a senior scientist and the researcher leading the Institute’s work on the IWH-OPM measure. SAFE Work Manitoba entered into a formal agreement with Amick to provide support in a number of areas, including defining “safety culture,” developing evaluation frameworks and recommending ways in which the IWH-OPM could fit into the initiative. We wanted to be able to leverage work that already had credibility and scientific validity, Rennie says, adding that working with a research organization brought important benefits.

Incorporating advice from an established research organization was a way we could reassure stakeholders, such as employers and industry associations, that we weren’t engaging in some kind of experiment with our safety culture strategy, he says. It was based on sound research by a solid research provider.

IWH expertise built into components of safety culture framework

With support from Amick, the safety culture team at SAFE Work Manitoba built a number of important components of the safety culture framework, which was introduced to the province in the summer of 2017. First was a clear definition of a positive safety culture—"when a set of shared values and beliefs about workplace safety and health influences actions and drives practices preventing workplace injuries and illnesses”—along with a list of the values and beliefs incorporated in this definition. With Ben, we collaborated with stakeholders in Manitoba to arrive at a clear definition of safety culture that we’re using in all our messaging and programming, says Roth.

Second were two evaluation frameworks, one for evaluating success in building a strong safety culture and another for evaluating a certification program designed to make workplaces safer and provide financial incentives to employers for doing so—a key component of the safety culture initiative.

Third was the development of what the team colloquially referred to as the “IWH-OPM plus four,” which was subsequently rebranded the Safety Culture Assessment. This assessment, which adds four items from another survey called the Organizational Policies and Practices Questionnaire to the eight IWH-OPM items, is used to help workplaces understand and improve their safety culture and its relationship to their safety and health efforts, and to assess whether or not safety certification is helping to improve a workplace's safety and health management system in reducing the risk of injury and illness. The assessment is completed twice prior to certification, and then annually with each maintenance audit. At this point, it is not used to determine whether or not an employer becomes certified.

Some of the IWH-OPM questions are also the basis of a Safety Culture Index being incorporated into SAFE Work Manitoba’s annual telephone surveys of about 800 Manitobans, to assess the effect of the organization’s social marketing campaigns, certification process and other initiatives on improving safety culture. We’re using the surveys as an index for all of Manitoba to track how we’re doing, says Rennie.

Early results of the Safety Culture Assessment and the annual Safety Culture Index indicate positive assessments for most safety culture indicators. However, because these initiatives are fairly new, enough information is not yet available to identify trends over time. As SAFE Work Manitoba enters a new five-year planning cycle, it will continue to track results and monitor progress. We certainly have the building blocks in place, and we hope to continue, says Roth.

For more information on the SAFE Work Manitoba safety culture initiative, go to: