Workplaces that focus on both operations and safety can succeed at both

In brief

  • Workplaces that jointly manage operations and occupational health and safety (OHS) perform well at both, and no worse than workplaces that focus on only one. There’s no evidence that success in operations requires a trade-off with safety.

Published: January 2016

Why was this study done?

An argument sometimes raised is that workplaces can choose to excel at operations or OHS, but not both. This study aimed to find out. Can best practices in operations and OHS co-exist, or is there a trade-off?

How was the study done?

The study team analyzed survey responses from 200 manufacturing workplaces in Ontario with at least 100 full-time employees. At each of these workplaces, two people—the operations manager and the OHS manager—completed surveys.

To determine if a workplace jointly managed operations and OHS, the researchers compared the survey scores of the operational and OHS managers with respect to their workplace’s adoption of a formal set of practices that allowed for the joint planning, measurement, monitoring and continuous improvement of both operations and OHS. If both managers gave their workplace high scores on these practices, a joint management system was considered in place. If both managers gave their workplace low scores, a joint management system was considered absent.

To determine operational outcomes, the research team looked at how survey respondents rated their organization’s cost, quality, delivery and flexibility performance compared to their competitors. To determine health and safety outcomes, the researchers examined the workplace’s injury claims rates using administrative data from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and compared them to the sector average.

What did the researchers find?

Workplaces with joint management systems had better operational and safety outcomes than workplaces without them. Workplaces with joint management systems also had similar operational outcomes as workplaces that emphasized operations over safety, and similar OHS outcomes as workplaces that emphasized safety over operations.

What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the study?

A strength of this study is its innovative examination of both operational and OHS outcomes at the plant level at the same time. A weakness of the study is that it looked only at manufacturing workplaces in Ontario, so its findings may not apply to other sectors and geographic locations. Another weakness of the study is that its measurement of joint management is based on a self-report survey, which could be affected by recall and social biases.