Traditionally, predictions about a workplace's ongoing Occupational Health Safety (OHS) have been made based on that organisation's past safety track records. New research suggests that more effective predictions can be made if the focus is on the active steps a workplace takes to prevent future OHS incidents.

Referred to as "OHS lead indicators," these active steps towards incident prevention could take the form of any action, behaviour, or process undertaken by a workplace to actively improve OHS.

Some examples include:

  • OHS training
  • interventions
  • audits
  • risk management
  • communication strategies
  • accountability
  • positive feedback and recognition for OHS performance.

Nationally and internationally, industry and policy stakeholders are expressing increased interest in using leading indicators to formally predict future workplace OHS performance and consequently reduce workplace injury rates.

At the same time, Australian regulators, such as WorkSafe, are gearing up to include leading indicators in new OHS measurement policies and practices.

Until now, however, there has been very little research into how leading indicators can be measured reliably and consistently across different workplaces and industries. Professor Helen De Cieri and a team from Monash University are undertaking a study.

To date, this research team has identified one tool as having the greatest potential for application in Australia: the Organisational Performance Metric (OPM). This tool was developed by the Institute of Work and Health in Canada and takes the form of an eight-item questionnaire designed to measure employees' perceptions regarding the value of, and emphasis given, to OHS in their workplace.

Professor De Cieri's research team produced a snapshot review of the OPM in 2012, comparing the structure and properties of the OPM to other tools. They concluded that the OPM offered the highest potential for practical application.

Status

Adapting the OPM for use in Australia as the "Monash OPM," the team tested the tool on selected workers from two very different workplaces; firstly with members of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch)(ANMF), and then with members of the Australian Education Union (AEU).

The Monash OPM could be used to deliver a simple, preliminary measure of OHS leading indicators. Researchers then undertook further analysis with these survey results including undertaking a comparative study of the results from the two unions to compare results related to safety climate, OHS leadership and worker’s engagement in safety.

Additionally, researchers looked at a comparison of OHS issues for members of the ANMF working in Aged Care and those in Public Hospital settings.

Early indicators of workplace injuries and accidents

The research team then conducted a national survey conducted with six major organisations and a statewide survey of 1444 Victorian workplaces (including an even more diverse range of industries). This broader investigation further endorses the reliability of the Monash OPM as reliable measure of OHS leading indicators.

Significantly, the survey results also highlight that workplaces with greater commitment to health, wellbeing and safety experience fewer work-related injuries and illness—confirming the overall value of leading indicators for compensation bodies such as WorkSafe.

Health and Safety Inspector Checklist

This report presents results of a research project designed to develop and validate a brief, generic occupational health and safety checklist to assist inspectors with their evaluations of worksites—the Health and Safety Inspector Checklist (HaSIC).

The aims of the project were to

  • develop a brief, generic occupational health and safety checklist to assist inspectors with their evaluations of worksites,
  • validate the HaSIC via a trial study, and
  • promote the concept of OHS leading indicators among inspectors.

The OHS leading indicators project has identified and adapted a measure of leading indicators of OHS, the Organizational Performance Metric-Monash University (OPM-MU) that can be used as a ‘pulse check’ of OHS leading indicators for workplaces in Australia.

Download report: 'A multi-stage validation study to assess an OHS leading indicators tool'