Leading indicators project tests five tools for ability to predict injury claims

With help from 1,800 Ontario employers, IWH team probes workplace factors for link to future claims

Published: November 11, 2013

Imagine a boardroom meeting where the human resources director runs through some metrics and concludes, “These numbers tell us our injuries will likely go down in the next five years. They’ll decrease even more if we focus our health and safety efforts on these specific areas.”

That’s the goal driving the Ontario Leading Indicators Project (OLIP) at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). OLIP is a large study designed to find organizational and management measures that can be used by workplaces and system partners to gauge and improve health and safety performance before injuries and illnesses occur.

Working in partnership with four Ontario health and safety associations—Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), Workplace Safety North (WSN), Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA) and Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA)—the study is assessing five different potential leading indicator tools through a survey administered to employers across Ontario.

Imagine the difference it could make to workplaces if employers could tell by looking at some metrics what programs they need to pay attention to, to prevent injuries and illness from occurring, says Dr. Ben Amick, IWH senior scientist and project lead.

Gathering the data

It’s quite an undertaking. Finding the indicators means sifting through a mountain of data—not to mention compiling that data in the first place. On that task, OLIP researchers have had invaluable help from about 1,800 workplaces in Ontario—from family-run factory shops to multi-site global players with thousands on the payroll.

These employers set aside time for a few individuals to take the 20-minute survey. They also agreed to let the research team link up the results of their survey (with identifiers removed) with claims records kept by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). This allows researchers to correlate survey results with job-related injury and illness claims.

This fall, the earliest participants from among these employers are receiving benchmark reports based on their survey scores. These reports let the organizations know the health and safety areas in which they’re doing well, and the areas that need improvement—scoring everything from their policies and practices to training and worker participation.

The benchmark reports also let participants know how they’re doing relative to the other organizations that took part in the survey. In industry sectors and subsectors with at least 10 participating employers, the reports also indicate how well participants stack up against their peers.

Companies have been keen to receive this information, says Illia Tchernikov, knowledge broker at WSPS, which recruited a significant number of participants to date. They find it innovative, and they understand the true value of the endeavour. Senior managers understand the need to manage risk, and being able to look ahead is a key part of risk management.

With the distribution of the first benchmark reports, OLIP is now well into its next phase, which is to recruit employers in the province’s construction, transportation, electrical and utilities sectors. All other organizations in Ontario are also welcome to take part and have until January 2014 to join the project.

A composite of five tools

Meanwhile, work is ongoing to identify the scores that correlate the most with the organizations’ WSIB claims rates over five years. The scores may indicate which of the five tools that make up the OLIP survey are the most helpful measures of organizational health and safety performance. The five tools selected have emerged from the scientific literature looking at several distinct, though related, influences that may be at play:

  • joint labour-management health and safety committees;
  • safety culture—a set of shared beliefs, values and attitudes about safety that could lead to observable behaviour;
  • safety climate—how workers perceive the way managers and supervisors deal with safety issues;
  • organizational policies and practices;
  • and occupational health and safety management systems.

Of the five tools in the survey, four have been validated in previous studies. (One of these has been found to track injury claims in Ontario and New Brunswick.) Whether one tool stands out from the others as a predictor of injury and illness is something OLIP might be able to answer.

This is a very exciting time for IWH, Amick says. The OLIP team has been working hand in hand with Ontario prevention system partners to produce a set of scientifically credible leading indicator tools that people can use. We know workplace parties are watching. Our hope is to build a lasting resource for Ontario.

There’s more about the development of leading indicators, including research to date and related challenges, in the Institute’s newest Issue Briefing. For more on OLIP, including a sample survey, a full description of the five tools being studied, as well as a sample benchmarking report, go to: www.iwh.on.ca/olip. For more on a related leading indicator project—Organizational Performance Metric (OPM), one of the five tools included in OLIP—go to: www.iwh.on.ca/opm.