Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What's new in Canadian Research on Work and Health?

I spent part of last week at the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health (CARWH) conference in Toronto.  The conference theme was Worker Health in a Changing World and participants included about 300 researchers from across Canada with some from the US and even Australia.

So, what was preoccupying the researchers at this event? There were so many threads, it is hard to pull them all together but here is a short list of topics that might give you a hint of the range discussed in sessions or presented in poster sessions:  asbestos, shiftwork/nightwork, vulnerable workers and those in precarious employment, stress, the heath of truck drivers, pesticides and cancer, effectiveness of OHS training and education, trends from Ontario's high risk firm intervention progam.

As with any multi-stream event, there is no way any one person can see or hear all presentations so it is a bit unfair to highlight some topics over others.  That said, I was really impressed by a couple of presentations that I did attend and think you will find them of interest as well. 

For those of you who work with larger employers, there was a great example from Fraser Health.  Shannon Atkins demonstrated how an internal call centre approach reduced the time for filing employer reports.  From the paper abstract, "Results to date are impressive. Form 7 submission timeline reduced from an average of 16.9 days to 1.72 days, with a mode of 0.04 days. Claim duration has been reduced from 49.2 days pre-call centre to 36.5 days."

Another fascinating presentation was "Long-duration claims – what is driving increases in duration and locked-in claims in Ontario?".  Sheila Hogg-Johnson's analysis showed that both duration and locked-in claims increase coincidentally with January 1998's Bill 99 legislative and policy change.  Now work is going in to examining exactly why. 

Several speakers discussed qualitative research examining topics like Joan Eakin's "The stigmatization of injured workers: The construction of "unworthiness" in the compensation process".  The care and concern for workers generally was reflected in every presentation.

Cameron Mustard's  work on comparing BC and Ontario long-term care injury rates and durations was preliminary but demonstrated the great power in using large data sets from different jurisdictions to ‘tease out’ differences (and that may lead to new approaches for fewer injuries and shorter duration).

One of the most insightful comments from the two days was contained in a presentation by Genevieve Baril-Gingras from Laval. She and a dozen other colleagues reviewed the occupational safety and health law in Quebec by examining its provisions with those of other jurisdictions elsewhere in Canada and the world. Their findings resulted in a set of recommendations, each one backed by what they found from the science and experience elsewhere.  And each recommendation was based on a proven provision in place in one or more of the other jurisdictions examined.  Clearly, there will be lessons for other OHS and workers' compensation agencies in this paper.

Beyond the findings and the recommendations, her presentation contained one line that really impressed me. She said: "Academic freedom = Responsibility".  Researchers need the freedom to gow where the research leads them, and if it leads them to conclusions that are uncomfortable or inconvenient, researchers still have a responsibility:  to tell it like it is. 

Just how research will be used by legislators and policy makers will depend on many factors.  The likelihood of making the best public policy decisions, however, depends on accurate, well researched information.  I'm glad there are people out there who take that responsibility in the study of work and health so seriously. 


No comments: