Grant round-up: Anticipating future risks among externally funded projects under way at IWH

A round-up of newly funded projects at the Institute for Work & Health

Published: December 19, 2019

Evidence-based practices and approaches in occupational health and safety and disability management can help achieve better outcomes for workers, employers and policy-makers. To identify these practices and approaches, the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) is supported by core funding from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. IWH scientists also compete for funding from granting agencies to further their research work. Here are some of the projects that were awarded funding over the past year.

‘Future-proofing’ young people with disabilities

Labour markets in Canada and similar economies have entered what some are calling “the fourth industrial age.” It’s an era defined by the growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the automation of job tasks, and significant changes to the organization of work brought about by the integration of digital technologies in all aspects of life.

During such times of disruption, the most vulnerable in society have the potential to be the most adversely affected. In a project financed by the New Frontiers in Research Fund established by the Canadian Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat, IWH Scientist Dr. Arif Jetha will use foresight methods to examine what future changes to the labour market could mean for young people with disabilities and how they can anticipate opportunities for work participation.

The project has three objectives: 1) to examine potential changes that may occur in the Canadian labour market 15 years from now, and how they may affect the work participation of young people with disabilities; 2) identify work-related skills that young people with disabilities will need in the changing labour market; and 3) develop concrete recommendations to “future-proof” young people with disabilities. (Future-proofing refers to the process of anticipating the future and developing policies and programs to improve resilience and minimize the shocks and stresses of future events.)

With foresight and planning, we can take steps to better understand the needs of the most marginalized groups and take advantage of opportunities to lessen their risks, says Jetha. We hope this research will help highlight how different vulnerable groups will be affected, and contribute to societal efforts to ensure young people with disabilities are able to work and thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

Establishing a baseline on the presence of cannabis in workplace deaths

More than a year after recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada, employers and prevention professionals are still cautiously watchful about the potential impact on workplace safety. Yet, no source of data is currently available on the extent to which cannabis use is implicated in workplace safety incidents and deaths. To help fill this gap, a project at IWH is examining the feasibility of using information collected by the Office of the Chief Coroner in the investigation of traumatic occupational fatalities.

The project, funded by CIHR, is being co-led by IWH Associate Scientist Dr. Nancy Carnide and Senior Scientist and Scientific Co-Director Dr. Peter Smith. By reviewing coroner reports on workplace deaths in Ontario from 2006 to 2018, the team will create and implement a comprehensive, standardized tool to extract information from coroner records on the extent of toxicology testing in work-related deaths, the quality of toxicology information, and the nature and scope of cannabis involvement in workplace fatalities.

We will analyze trends in these measures over time and explore how fatalities that did and did not involve cannabis differ by worker, workplace and nature of accident, says Carnide. If successful, this study in Ontario may lay the groundwork for similar studies and analyses using coroner data across Canada.

Understanding long-term outcomes for injured workers

How well are people with work-related injuries and illnesses doing—both in terms of their health and personal finance— when they are no longer receiving benefits or services from the workers’ compensation system? Does the answer differ for people who go back to work quickly compared to those whose workers’ compensation claims extend beyond a year? A new study seeks to answer these questions and more as it examines how injured workers fare after they are no longer receiving benefits or services from Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

Funded by the WSIB and led by IWH President and Senior Scientist Dr. Cam Mustard, the Ontario Injured Workers Outcome Study (OIWOS) will recruit three groups of workers’ compensation claimants into the study: those whose claims were resolved relatively quickly, those whose claims took somewhat longer to resolve, and those whose claims were prolonged. The research team will then examine the health and job outcomes of these claimants, comparing them to those of other groups of injured workers and to those of Ontario workers who are similar in most respects except that they have not had a work injury or illness. The study hopes to identify whether particular groups of workers are at most risk for poor work and health outcomes.

The results of this study have the potential to inform the design and administration of WSIB claimant services, says Mustard. We have a long history of working with the WSIB to support its program and service delivery evaluation. This work demonstrates the value we continue to offer to support the improvement of Ontario’s workers’ compensation system.