The work on identifying leading indicators in occupational health and safety (OHS) is gaining momentum at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). In a promising development, an eight-item questionnaire jointly developed by IWH and Ontario’s health and safety associations has been found to be predictive of workers’ compensation claims rates three years down the road in a sample of Ontario workplaces.
Called the Institute for Work & Health Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM), this questionnaire was the first tool to come out of the Institute’s leading indicators research. When it was first tested in 2009 at over 600 Ontario workplaces, researchers found a strong relationship between IWH-OPM scores and past workers’ compensation claims rates. Now, the latest research shows that IWH-OPM scores may also be predictive of future claims rates.
"We have found a relationship, at least among the group of firms we studied, and it’s not a weak relationship," says Dr. Ben Amick, a senior scientist at IWH and lead researcher on the team. "We took into account each organization’s claims rates in the five years prior to 2009. We controlled for this past injury and illness claims experience, as well as the company’s industrial sector and firm size. We’re confident the relationship between IWH-OPM scores and future claims is real for this sample of Ontario firms."
His enthusiasm is tempered by one cautionary note: any Ontario workplace could join in the IWH-OPM study. Participants were not randomly selected to be representative of all Ontario workplaces or even workplaces in their industrial sector. As a result, the findings need to be replicated in other samples of workplaces––work which is underway with data from IWH’s Ontario Leading Indicators Project (OLIP).
At IWH, this work to identify and validate OHS leading indicators on work injury and illness has been going on since 2008. Leading indicators are measures of factors expected to affect occupational health and safety outcomes. Measure scores may signal whether an organization’s injury and illness rates are likely to rise or fall in the years ahead.
The latest findings about the IWH-OPM’s potential predictive ability came out of a fresh analysis of the IWH-OPM scores of Ontario workplaces that took part in the first phase of the research. Respondents were asked at the time to assess how often a practice was carried out at their organizations. The research team used the scores to group participating organizations into four tiers. (For more on the results of the first phase, see www.iwh.on.ca/at-work/61/prevention-team-develops-tool-to-measure-leading-indicators.)
In the more recent phase of the research, the team obtained the claims rates of 325 of the original participating organizations for the three years after the survey. They found better-scoring tiers consistently had lower claims rates than the worse-scoring ones.
"We hope that Ontario employers will use the IWH-OPM tool as an additional vehicle for gathering information about the state and functionality of their OHS program," says Kiran Kapoor, director of business and market strategy at Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), a health and safety association on the project team. "Those interested in completing the survey can leverage WSPS’s project experience to develop an action plan that is right for their workplace and can help grow their business."
Part of larger project
This research on the IWH-OPM is only one part of a larger effort at IWH to measure and validate leading indicators—the Ontario Leading Indicators Project. The IWH-OPM is one of five measurement tools that make up the OLIP survey, and work is currently ongoing to assess whether this larger survey—or which part of it—also has predictive ability when it comes to workers’ compensation claims.
Unlike IWH-OPM participants, the nearly 2,000 workplaces that took part in the first three phases of OLIP testing were randomly selected to represent all workplaces in Ontario. That has enabled the research team to develop meaningful benchmarks for most industrial sectors and subsectors in the province, which are now being used in a number of ways by workplaces (see below).
More research ahead
The work ahead for both the IWH-OPM and OLIP is also exciting. Dr. Chris McLeod, an IWH associate scientist and University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health assistant professor, is launching a research project using the IWH-OPM in private long-term care facilities. That project, funded by WorkSafeBC, is expected to be broadened to include a sample of organizations in the service and manufacturing sectors as a next step.
And with a new two-year grant from the Ontario Ministry of Labour Research Opportunities Program, Amick’s team, in partnership with WSPS and the Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA), will begin asking OHS practioners how they use leading indicators. The team will draw on what they learn to build real-time tools—such as apps and dashboards—to help organizations manage health and safety change in the workplace.
"Organizations typically find it a challenge to move research to commercialization," says Glenn Cullen, vice-president of corporate programs and product development at PSHSA. "Commercialization for us means increasing our reach by introducing innovative products and solutions that align with our health and safety mandate for Ontario workers and employers."
Both the IWH-OPM and OLIP surveys are now posted on IWH’s website for any employer to take access. To take the 20-minute OLIP survey and get benchmark results, go to: www.iwh.on.ca/projects/ontario-leading-indicators-project. For the IWH-OPM, go to: www.iwh.on.ca/tools-and-guides/iwh-organizational-performance-metric.