With workers’ health and safety top of mind, the Institute for Work & Health has developed easy-to-use resources designed for workers, employers, clinicians, and health and safety professionals. With some tools seeing close to 3,000 downloads, it’s an understatement to say that they have struck a chord in the “real world” of work.

Published: October 19, 2011

Research at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) is driven by two things: (1) to prevent work-related injury and illness and (2) to improve the health and recovery of injured workers. That means research findings need to get into the hands of front-line people directly involved in preventing work injury and disability.

The tools developed by IWH are designed to do just that. Three IWH resources illustrate this perfectly: Red Flags/Green Lights: A Guide to Identifying and Solving Return-to-Work Problems, the Health & Safety Smart Planner and the Neck Pain Evidence Summary. But just how are these tools resonating in “the real world”? We decided to talk to a few users of these resources to find out.

Red Flags/Green Lights

Red Flags/Green Lights is a research-based guide that was developed for all those who play a key role in helping injured workers return to work. Since its release in June 2009, it has generated national and international interest. Indeed, as of the fall of 2011, it has been downloaded more than 2,900 times, largely by people from government, hospitals and other health-care organizations, universities, workers’ compensation boards, insurance companies and unions.

This RTW guide was developed to help decision-makers identify and manage RTW problems in four domains: workplace, vocational rehabilitation, health and workers’ compensation claims. It originated from a study led by IWH Scientist Dr. Ellen MacEachen that explored why workers do not return to work as expected.

Red Flags/Green Lights has found a home at Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Maureen McDonald, an RTW program specialist at WSIB, posted the guide on a shared drive at WSIB so it could be used across the organization.

The feedback from staff members who have used Red Flags/Green Lights has been quite positive, McDonald says. We are enjoying the use of the content. In particular, it is an appropriate tool for employers to help understand case management and key concepts of RTW. Users found the layout of the guide to be convenient, with sections for different problems and lots of examples.

Another fan of this RTW guide is Arden Langille, a safety officer with the Department of National Defence. He used it as the “meat and potatoes” of a presentation at the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering’s Professional Development Conference last year. He showcased the guide in his presentation because it was one of the best, and first, resources he had found.

I like its simplicity, Langille says. Although it covers complex issues, they are simply and logically presented. The guide provides clear examples and truly demystifies return to work.

To download Red Flags/Green Lights, go to www.iwh.on.ca/rtw-problems-guide.

Health & Safety Smart Planner

The Health & Safety Smart Planner is a software program designed to help workplaces understand the full benefits and costs of occupational health and safety programs and interventions. Dr. Emile Tompa, an IWH scientist and economist, led the team that developed the software program. Released in 2010, the Ontario version of the Smart Planner has seen over 900 downloads to date.

Donna McTaggart Carlson, a Winnipeg-based health and safety coordinator at the Royal Canadian Mint, participated in two focus groups for the Manitoba version of the Smart Planner, held in June 2010 and April 2011. The purpose of the focus groups was to get input on how to best customize the software for Manitoba workplaces and to determine the guidance needed by workplaces on economic evaluation.

The Smart Planner is a tremendous tool, she says. A lot of times, it’s very hard to quantify the costs and benefits of safety. This tool provides a way to insert relevant numbers, while creating a business plan. It’s an up-front tool that sees or determines potentially hidden costs, and it is as accurate as possible.

Carlson also likes the tool because it allows her to speak the language of upper-level management. I can talk about things like profit margins, she says. It helps make a business case for safety.

Some important upgrades are in the works for the Smart Planner. A new instructional video will be included in the latest version of the software re-launch this fall. This tutorial will offer a visual guide on how to get the most out of the tool.

As well, the research team is planning to develop an economic evaluation workshop in 2012. Sara Macdonald, IWH knowledge transfer associate and a key member of the team, describes it as a “training workshop for workplace parties—managers, labour representatives, and health and safety (H&S) practitioners—on economic evaluation methods for H&S initiatives.”

As a testament to the value of the Smart Planner, the French research organization, l’Institut national de recherché et de sécurité pour la prévention des accidents du travail et des maladies professionnelles, has recently adopted the Smart Planner and licensed the software for three years. Tompa will be working with this group to develop the tool for the French economy.

The Health & Safety Smart Planner is available at: www.iwh.on.ca/smart-planner.

Neck Pain Evidence Summary

IWH created the Neck Pain Evidence Summary to share the evidence synthesis completed by The Bone and Joint Task Force on Neck Pain. IWH worked in concert with the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, the Ontario Chiropractic Association and some members of the Executive Committee of the 2000-2010 Bone and Joint Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders to prepare this summary.

This resource is designed for health-care professionals who treat patients with neck pain, ranging from mild pain to whiplash. It presents helpful and unhelpful treatments, as well as guidance on assessing patients. To date, it has been downloaded 2,288 times.

One of the users of the Neck Pain Evidence Summary is Martha Bauer, an occupational therapist based in Ontario. She likes the fact that it brings the latest evidence together in one resource. I frequently use this guide with patients in the field, she says. I like it because the research is very clear, and it supports the best strategies. In particular, Appendix C [on the use of x-rays in Canada] helps me to explain to clients why an x-ray may not be needed in their cases.

The Neck Pain Evidence Summary is available at www.iwh.on.ca/neck-pain-evidence-summary.

All three of these free IWH resources embody IWH’s ongoing mandate to protect workers and improve the health and recovery of injured workers. These tools are proving invaluable in the “real world” of work. The users have spoken. Loud and clear.