Easy-to-use tool measures benefits and costs of OHS initiatives

The Institute for Work & Health introduces the Health & Safety Smart Planner – a new, user-friendly tool that is designed to help workplaces understand the full benefits and costs of occupational health and safety programs and interventions.

Published: February 18, 2010

A free, user-friendly software program developed by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) can help workplaces see the benefits and costs of their health and safety programs. Called the Health & Safety Smart Planner, the tool is expected to be available for downloading from IWH’s website by the spring of 2010.

Health and safety planning should be based on a thorough analysis of all the benefits and costs associated with an intervention. This can be a challenge for workplaces to undertake, says Dr. Emile Tompa, an IWH scientist and economist who led the software development. In the Smart Planner, we’ve tried to build sound economic principles into a format that’s easy to use.

The up-front costs of occupational health and safety (OHS) initiatives can deter firms from investing in them. Yet the overall benefits – such as lower injury rates or productivity gains – may outweigh these costs over time. The Smart Planner helps to present a complete picture of all the benefits and costs. In technical terms, this is known as an economic evaluation, an area in which Tompa is an expert.

There are several versions of the Smart Planner. The first one, designed for the manufacturing and service sectors in Ontario, was funded by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Research Advisory Council. Another version, supported by funding from WorkSafeBC, is being developed for the health-care sector in British Columbia.

Tool based on economic evaluation research

Through other research projects, we realized that workplaces and other interested parties lack guidance on how to conduct this type of evaluation, even though it provides valuable information on the resource implications of an OHS intervention, says Tompa.

In 2007, Tompa led a systematic review that looked at studies of effective OHS programs that also considered benefits and costs. There was a notable lack of studies with an economic component. However, the review ultimately found that several types of OHS programs, such as ergonomic interventions in the manufacturing and warehousing sector, led to both health and financial returns. This approach can make a stronger case for investing in OHS.

Tompa and other IWH colleagues also edited a methods text entitled Economic Evaluation of Interventions for Occupational Health and Safety. It is designed to strengthen good practices in this area among economists and other researchers. Realizing that workplaces needed more immediate evidence and an easier way to do an economic evaluation, Tompa came up with the concept of the Smart Planner.

It offers a step-by-step approach, with simple explanations throughout, prompting the user to enter the necessary information (see below). The software makes the key calculations, which appear on a summary sheet. In addition, it features a database that stores the costs of ongoing OHS incidents in a workplace, as well as the economic analyses of interventions.

The first version has just been completed, but further developments are underway. There are plans to incorporate video training clips into the software and customize another version for Manitoba, as its Workers Compensation Board recently approved a grant for this purpose.

This spring, you can download it from: www.iwh.on.ca/smart-planner.