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The Role of Research in OSH

Jim Smith, M.S., CSP, 2017-18 ASSE President
Dec 01, 2017

Jim SmithOne of our key goals this year is to expand the Society’s commitment to research. As OSH professionals, we need evidence-based practices to drive our decision making and inform our efforts to develop standards of practice. Research will also help us fill gaps in our body of knowledge, which will enable us to convince more employers to implement safety and health management programs.

Ultimately, our goal is to encourage research within the OSH community that will feasibly yield meaningful results and help fulfill the concept of research to practice. As a first step in pursuing that goal, we published our first working agenda for OSH research in January 2017. This agenda identifies nine topic areas that demand better understanding and hones in on three areas that we believe are the most important in which to encourage research:

  1. Validate the effectiveness of OSH management systems.
  2. Demonstrate that increasing the quality of safety interventions improves OSH outcomes and company performance.
  3. Provide employers with a better understanding of the value of integrating overall worker wellness with OSH.

To further understand the information needs of our members, in August, we conducted a survey to help identify safety challenges, barriers and obstacles that members encounter in their workplaces and to identify gaps in information that we need filled to better perform our jobs.

The takeaways from that survey are telling. Members indicated that their top-of-mind challenges include organization and leadership issues, which encompass factors such as lack of management commitment, poor leadership and difficulties in maintaining cultural norms to improve safety.

Worker mind-set was also identified as a leading challenge, particularly lack of worker engagement and accountability. In addition, members pointed to the need for theory to be translated into best practices and how-to applications because proven success stories often help convince management to move ahead on new initiatives.

When asked what topics present the greatest challenges, the top answers from the survey will ring true for most of us:

  • human organizational performance and safety culture;
  • risk management/assessment;
  • leading indicators;
  • changing workforce demographics;
  • health and wellness.

To take a deeper look at the leading challenges and topics, and to validate our top three research priorities, ASSE brought together stakeholders from academia, business, labor, professional organizations, global partners, government and insurance for a 1-day research workshop last month. We discussed the needs of OSH researchers, identified gaps in current research, and explored how new studies could help generate solutions in various business settings. We also brainstormed a range of mechanisms to more broadly share existing data and translate those data into practice so that we can better protect workers and prevent injuries and illnesses.

The ideas were plentiful and we covered a lot of ground in 1 day. We are working on a document that summarizes the workshop dialogue and will share that with members soon. Be assured, this event and our recent initiatives around research are only a beginning. By identifying research priorities and challenges, we have set in motion next steps that will help us build partnerships and allow us to maximize limited resources to better advance injury and illness prevention.

We will also continue to seek your input on research. Next time you see a survey from ASSE on this topic, I urge you to take a few minutes to share your insights. Your feedback is critical in helping ASSE set its direction.

Ultimately, these efforts will go a long way toward helping us achieve our long-term goal of elevating the OSH profession and enhancing the value its practitioners deliver through innovation, thought leadership, and objective, unbiased, science-based approaches to safety and health practices.

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