Construction safety association develops OHS assessment tool with IWH’s expertise

Construction Safety Association of Manitoba teams up with IWH to produce health and safety leading indicator dashboard and benchmarks for members

Published: July 30, 2019

As a not-for-profit run by and for building construction companies in Manitoba, the Construction Safety Association of Manitoba (CSAM) provides education, training and consulting on occupational health and safety (OHS) to its 7,000-plus members. It’s also one of the province’s only two authorized providers of Certificate of Recognition (COR™) and Small Employers Certificate of Recognition (SECOR™) certification.

In 2016, the association decided it wanted to offer more to members. Namely, it wanted to offer resources that let workplaces measure their safety culture, assess their health and safety leading indicators, and compare their health and safety performance with that of industry peers. That was why, under the leadership of then executive director Mike Jones, the association teamed up with the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) to turn a set of evidence-based OHS leading indicators developed by IWH into a digital OHS performance assessment and benchmarking tool. The result is the INDICATOR dashboard, which went live in April 2019.

A sizeable number of CSAM members—about 900—already do the COR™ or SECOR™ audit every year. But giving companies the opportunity to look at statistics that show how their safety programs compare with others would, we believe, help to spur on their safety programs even further, says Jones, a co-principal investigator on the project to develop the dashboard. With this dashboard, members get to compare themselves with what everybody else is doing. ‘Are we on the top? Are we in the middle? Or do we have a long, long way to go because we’re right at the bottom of the benchmark?’

Using INDICATOR, building construction companies in Manitoba can complete a 15-minute survey that includes the eight OHS leading indicator questions included in the Institute for Work & Health Organizational Performance Metric (IWH-OPM). Immediately after completing the survey, responses to the leading indicator questions are scored.

Based on these scores, building construction companies can benchmark themselves against others in various ways. They can compare their OHS performance against other companies in their geographical region, other companies of the same size, or other companies in the same construction subsector. Larger companies can use the survey to compare different site locations or departments. Companies can also retake the survey and compare themselves against themselves, year over year, adds Jones.

Scientifically credible

At IWH, research from a prior project has shown that OHS leaders use benchmarks to make or support OHS and organizational decisions (see sidebar on the next page). To be useful, OHS benchmarks have to be scientifically credible, and that was where Institute expertise came in, says IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Ben Amick, Jones’ co-principal investigator on the project.

Amick’s IWH team contributed to INDICATOR in two ways. First, the team worked with CSAM to develop the survey questions based on the IWH-OPM. The eight leading indicator questions in the IWH-OPM were developed by consensus by a team of health and safety professionals representing the breadth of Ontario’s prevention system. The eight questions have been tested for their validity and reliability, and have also been found to be linked to workers’ compensation claims rates in an Ontario sample of 600 workplaces and a New Brunswick sample of 250 workplaces. That is, higher IWH-OPM scores were linked to lower rates of workers’ compensation claims.

The IWH team also brought its expertise to the building of benchmarks specifically designed for Manitoba’s building construction sector. Between January and October 2018, the team recruited over 910 building construction employers to complete the survey. Drawing on its analysis of all firms covered by the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) of Manitoba, the team assigned weights to survey responses to ensure the benchmark sample was representative of the building construction industry in the province.

That is what differentiates this benchmark from many benchmarks in the market that are essentially based on data that consulting firms have accumulated over the years, says Amick. We don’t know whether those data are representative of all employers within a sector or all regions within a province. With INDICATOR, we know they are.

The recruitment took quite a bit of time and effort, says Amick, noting that 90 per cent of construction firms in Manitoba are small firms of fewer than 20 employees or very small firms of fewer than five. The very small firms are usually excluded from benchmarks. They’re hard to get; they’re very busy. They’re one- or two-person shops and they don’t have time to answer the phones or complete surveys.

The rare inclusion of very small firms in this INDICATOR benchmark is important because, as the team learned in its analysis of survey responses, the very small companies look very different from everyone else, says Amick. For example, very small firms don’t have a lot of injuries, but when they do, their injury rates skyrocket because they have so few people on staff.

Construction companies that use this benchmark can be confident that they are comparing themselves with their peers—in terms of subsectors and size—and that the overall profile of the benchmark is representative of the industry in Manitoba, says Amick.

What we have in INDICATOR is an evidence-based resource unique to building construction employers in Manitoba, and they can use it to improve their performance by assessing how they manage their broader health and safety issues.

A conversation starter

One feature that Jones finds exciting about the INDICATOR dashboard is its potential to help workplaces take the OHS conversation beyond the scores. When participating companies see their scores displayed on the INDICATOR dashboard, they can click on a leading indicator score and be taken to a resource page on the CSAM website that helps them address that area.

See a workplace use of IWH's leading indicators

We’ve given workplaces an opportunity to say, ‘This is where I’m not good. I want to improve on this. What resources are available to me?’ says Jones. Those resources could be training, consulting or templates and forms that can help them improve specific parts of their OHS program. That’s the magic of this.

As an example, he recalls a small electrical company that sought out CSAM’s help as result of doing the benchmarking survey during the development phase of the INDICATOR dashboard.

When the safety professional at this company did the survey, it prompted her to say, ‘They’re asking about this. We don’t have it. We should do it.’ So, before she received her benchmarking report, she was already making improvements to her program, says Jones.

I don’t think she and I would have had that conversation, or that she would have contacted CSAM, had she not done the survey. That’s a success for the project.

CSAM Training and Development Manager Meghan Storey, who took over the lead of the dashboard project after Jones left to become director of health, safety and environment at the FWS Group of Companies, speaks of another way INDICATOR can help CSAM improve its services. She says the association can examine the aggregate scores of its members (individual company scores are confidential) to identify what elements of members’ OHS programs need additional attention.

We are able to look at the benchmarks specific to [workers’ compensation] rate codes, to see the pattern of low scores in specific elements of the survey. And where there is a pattern, CSAM can evaluate our resources and training to see if they are sufficient, or whether we should be developing additional tools and resources to assist our members in the areas of greatest need, says Storey.

That’s how we feel we can use the benchmarking to our greatest advantage. We would be making targeted, data-driven decisions to ensure we continue to provide practical solutions for a safer workplace.