What research can do: IWH input contributes to enhancement of WSIB’s Health and Safety Index

When the WSIB reviewed its Health and Safety Index, IWH researchers provided advice on index methodology. An impact case study summarizes how enhancements to the index in October 2021 incorporated that advice

Published: May 26, 2022

In 2017, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) launched the Health and Safety Index (HSI). It’s designed to provide, in one number, an indicator of the health and safety of Ontario’s workplaces—as a whole and for five sectors: 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. The data came from both administrative sources and from surveys of Ontario workers, carried out by the WSIB annually.

In 2019, as part of a commitment to review the index after three years, the WSIB conducted a review of the methods used to arrive at the index score. It 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. The WSIB decided to revisit the methods behind the index. The Institute for Work & Health (IWH), through its then-president, Dr. Cameron Mustard, and its then-scientific co-director, Dr. Peter Smith (now president), participated in an advisory group established to guide the review process. The pair also provided advice directly to the WSIB on areas where the HSI could be improved. In October 2021, the HSI was revised, incorporating many of IWH’s suggestions.

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. Five questions from the measure are now in the index.

Leading the development of the index and the revision process is Terrance D’souza, Executive Director, WSIB Advanced Analytics. 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.

This column is based on an IWH impact case study published in May 2022.