CISWP's Research Program

CISWP adopts a transdisciplinary and collaborative approach to build capacity for productive and sustainable work. Our research program is organized into seven overarching and overlapping research themes:  

1.       Knowledge Transfer and Exchange

Knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) is vital for applying research knowledge into practice and decision-making. With immense resources invested into research, the knowledge generated should be readily accessible, available and applicable to knowledge users to use in practice, planning and policy-making. Through ongoing collaboration with stakeholders in all stages of our applied research, including conceptualization, development, execution and reporting, our KTE strategies fulfill the identified needs of knowledge users.

Our research focuses on the:

  • co-creation of (general and industry-specific) evidence-informed standards, guidelines, practices, tools, products, and technologies; and
  • integration of research knowledge into course curricula.  
2.       Musculoskeletal Health

CISWP collaborates with stakeholders including employers, workers, not-for-profits, labour/unions, academics, service providers, policy makers and practitioners to reduce the risk of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD). MSD are injuries that affect muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves caused by exposure to known ergonomic hazards including forceful exertions, repetitive motion, awkward posture and vibration.

In Ontario, MSD in the form of sprains and strains account for 44 per cent of all lost-time claims (WSIB, 2017). CISWP's research aims to reduce the burden of MSD by:

  • understanding the aetiology and pathophysiological mechanisms of MSD;
  • developing effective exposure measurement and risk assessment tools and improving surveillance systems;
  • investigating exposure-response relationships including both physical and psychosocial factors on musculoskeletal health; and
  • developing and evaluating interventions and risk mitigation strategies to prevent MSD among all business sizes and industry sectors.
3.       Mental Health and Wellness

Mental health is a state of well-being, where the individual can manage the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and reach her/his potential (MHCC, 2016). Effective workplace strategies for mental health and wellness are critical for productive and sustainable work, and for the prevention and management of mental illness.

Each year, mental illness directly and indirectly costs the Canadian economy at least $50 billion, of which $42.3 billion is spent on health and service care, and $6.4 billion is unrealized due to presenteeism, absenteeism, and labor force exit (MHCC, 2016). These losses in productivity can be reduced by as much as 30 per cent by improving workplace mental health and reducing mental illness (NICE, 2009).      

CISWP collaborates with stakeholders to:

  • understand the social and cultural work environments across industries; and
  • develop workplace strategies for the prevention, early detection, intervention, and management of mental illness, and promote workers' well-being.
4.      Organizational Management Systems

Organizations are responsible for providing safe working conditions and required to implement strategies to effectively prevent workplace injuries. If these activities are performed within some organizational-level framework, it may be considered a "management system."      

Often, health, safety and workplace injury prevention is approached as individual siloed programs, which is not sustainable or effective. It also results in additional human and financial costs and makes isolated programs vulnerable to financial downturns.      

Integrating health, safety and workplace injury prevention activities into an organization's overall management system including, but not limited to, the Quality Management System, and avoiding "silos" is highly desirable. This results in better recognition of health and safety issues by stakeholders within organizations, enhances organizational success and overall organizational performance.

CISWP collaborates with stakeholders in conducting cutting-edge research and developing evidence-informed practices to integrate health and safety, and injury and disability prevention into organizational management systems. Other research activities focus on:

  • developing innovative strategies to measure organizational success by defining the relationships and metrics of productivity, performance, quality and sustainability;
  • identifying and minimizing organizational barriers to success for productive and sustainable work; and
  • constructing and refining macro-ergonomic theories to optimize organizational excellence.
5.       disAbility and Employment

Recent statistics suggest that an estimated 20 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older have one or more disabilities. This limits the daily activity and participation of over 6.2 million Canadians in our workforce.

CISWP addresses this important issue by supporting stakeholders to comply with federal and provincial legislative requirements including Canada's obligations under the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Our collaborative efforts with key stakeholders aim to identify key challenges, solutions and opportunities to adopt advanced work disability prevention and wellness management systems that consider supply chain management issues, diverse legal and cultural contexts, and global competitiveness.

These efforts will inform the development of Canadian and International Standards for Work Disability Prevention Management Systems and other related best practices including, but not limited to, evidence-informed practices in work accommodation and return-to-work. In addition, CISWP's goal is to identify and evaluate technologies, equipment, products, tools and services that promote engagement and productivity for different abilities in diverse sectors and occupations.

6.       Building the Workforce for Tomorrow

The nature of work has changed and the new form of employment is becoming more flexible and uncertain. It is moving online through extensive development of technology and is becoming borderless.

It is rapidly evolving due to the introduction of robotics, AI technologies and smart machines. Concurrently, the Canadian workforce is aging and becoming more diverse in terms of cultural/ethnic origin, abilities and skill sets.

CISWP conducts research to explore how Canadian employers can best adapt to these changing conditions while ensuring an inclusive, productive and sustainable workforce.

Our research focuses on:

  • addressing the needs of micro and small businesses in preventing workplace injuries and enhancing performance and productivity;
  • addressing broader issues including precarious work, flexible work, and diversity and inclusion by identifying evidence-informed and effective practices. We aim to understand the generalizability, sustainability, and scalability of practices to implement into different contexts, occupations and sectors; and
  • conducting collaborative research to develop and evaluate multi-stakeholder strategies to capitalize on the skills, expertise and knowledge of the ageing workforce, and support a healthy work-to-retirement transition.
7.       Designing Work, Products and Environments

Universal design is a concept of designing and promoting products, communications and environments to accommodate human diversity; this includes a broad spectrum of abilities regardless of age, gender, ability or life status.

There are seven principles of universal design:

  1. equitable use,
  2. flexibility in use,
  3. simple and intuitive use,
  4. perceptible information,
  5. tolerance for error,
  6. low physical effort, and
  7. size and space for approach and use (The Center for Universal Design, 1997).

Using these principles, CISWP is committed to advocating and implementing strategies and solutions consistent with universal design. We will adopt a user-centred design approach where we focus on the needs of the user throughout the iterative product life cycle.

Our research focuses on:

  • constructing physical anthropometric databases across different sectors;
  • examining cross-national relationships;
  • developing design standards and guidelines; and
  • conducting iterative usability evaluations to improve product and work environments.  

Current Research Projects

Canadian Work Disability Prevention Standard for Paramedics with PTSI

The prevention and management of work disability is a significant challenge for paramedic services. It also has an impact beyond the workplace – affecting individuals outside of work, families and communities. As a result, development of paramedic health and wellness standards is listed as a priority in the Paramedic Association of Canada's 2016-2018 Strategic Plan.

Work disability prevention and management, for post-traumatic stress injuries (PTSI) specifically, is often dealt with reactively and differently in each paramedic organization. Since work disability prevention and management is not integrated within management systems, and not systematized across the paramedic community, it can be very resource intensive and not as effective as it could be.

Developing an evidence-informed and unified/standardized approach will fill a critical gap. It will enable the collection of consistent data for continuous improvement and ongoing/future research. In addition, the standard has the potential and capacity to address a wide range of disabilities, including physical disabilities such as those caused by musculoskeletal disorders.

The main objective of this study is to develop, promote, and disseminate a nationally applicable Canadian Paramedic Work Disability Prevention Standard and related tools to:

  • help prevent and manage work disability associated with PTSI of paramedics;
  • help prevent psychological harm from workplace exposures;
  • and build the capacity of paramedic services to address the psychological health and well-being of paramedics.

Project manager: Bronson Du, MSc

Canadian Standard for Paramedic Ground Emergency Response Vehicles and Equipment

Funding agency: Defence Research and Development Canada

Key project partners: Canadian Standards Association, Paramedic Association of Canada, Paramedic Chiefs of Canada, Centre of Research Expertise for Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders, County of Frontenac.

Project description:

Strengthening the capacity of the EMS community through the development of standards pertaining to the design and use of next generation ambulances and equipment is an important issue identified by the EMS community and scientists.

EMS personnel were 2.9 times more likely to suffer from injuries that required time away from work, and 13 times more likely to suffer from low back pain when compared to other industries. Considering the complex and dynamic work, the elevated injury rates may not be surprising. For example, the frequent need to extricate and transfer patients on and off backboards, stretchers and stair chairs also expose EMS personnel to human factors/ergonomic (HFE) hazards, such as high forces, awkward postures and repetitive movements.

Although the essential tasks of patient handling, care and transport cannot be eliminated, the design of the ambulance and its associated equipment, which play a significant role in how EMS personnel interact with their patients, is modifiable.

Since EMS personnel use ambulances and equipment provided by their employers, they often rely on manufacturers and procurement personnel to consider their interactions with the work system, i.e., core principles of ergonomics, when designing or purchasing products.

However, these general principles may not be sufficient because ergonomic guidelines, standards and research specific to ambulances and EMS equipment are either not readily accessible or applicable. On the contrary, ambulance and EMS equipment design standards, which are mandated and used as a basis for communicating design requirements, provide limited guidance of HFE principles.

The objective is to develop a Canadian Standard that will:

  • identify the minimum HFE design and usage requirements for emergency response vehicles and equipment with consideration to paramedic and patient safety and infection control;
  • provide guidelines to support manufacturers in designing emergency response vehicles and/or equipment in accordance with evidence-based practices;
  • support the procurement of appropriately designed emergency response vehicles and/or equipment in accordance with evidence-based practices;
  • protect the health, safety and wellbeing of EMS personnel; and
  • improve patient safety. 

Project manager: Bronson Du, MSc

Canadian First Responder Fatigue Risk Management Standard

Funding agency: Defence Research and Development Canada

Key project partners: Canadian Standards Association, Paramedic Chiefs of Canada, Paramedic Association of Canada, County of Renfrew

Project description:

First responders are at high risk of suffering decrements in neurocognitive performance related to fatigue. Such performance decrements endanger the personal health and safety of these responders, but also the health and safety of their fellow responders and the public they serve. Appropriate management, policies, standards, guidance and research activities can reduce the exposure to these fatigue-related risks and hazards before they pose significant problems during emergency response operations.

For these reasons, first responders constitute an occupational group that is particularly vulnerable to the effects of fatigue. Managing responder fatigue and mitigating its associated health and safety risks are essential to protect first responder and public health and safety.

The objective of this project is to develop an evidence-informed National Standard on First Responder Workplace Fatigue Risk Management which will be used across Canada to improve first responder health and wellness and support the collection of consistent, national data that will inform the development of a robust and comprehensive Canadian Paramedic Information System.

This will ultimately advance the paramedic profession by making accurate data available for research, improved operational practice, informed decision-making and policy development, improved paramedic health and safety and improved patient outcomes.

We will:

  • conduct research related to first responder workplace fatigue risk management (including working with partners and workplaces);
  • develop a consensus-based, evidence-informed national standard;
  • develop supporting Standard implementation tools;
  • pilot test the standard in an organization in British Columbia; and
  • support the internationalization of the Standard to showcase Canada as a leader in first responder health and wellness and build capacity within the international community.

Project manager: Marcus Yung, PhD, CPE

Canadian Standard for Work Disability Prevention Management System

Funding agency: Canadian Standards Association

Key project partners: Canadian Standards Association, Centre for Research on Work Disability

Project description:

Every year, tens of thousands of Canadians become disabled and are unable to work, thereby becoming excluded from the numerous health advantages of workforce participation. According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians aged 15 and older had one or more disabilities in 2017.

The annual cost of work disability is estimated to be very significant for employers and society as a whole. According to the Canadian Society for Professionals in Disability Management, "failure to return to work costs taxpayers in Canada about nine cents out of every dollar earned, or about $2,500 per working person in the country." The true economic burden is likely substantially higher, given that many working age adults with disabilities who can and want to work are not connected to workplaces and are often not counted as part of the labour force.

Reducing work disability is best achieved by targeting the social, insurance, workplace and individual barriers to work. Effective strategies to reduce work disability include workplace interventions such as work accommodation and return-to-work coordination.

There are many benefits of having formal policies and procedures for workplace accommodation and for hiring and retaining workers with disabilities such as shorter work absences, higher levels of worker engagement, increased productivity workforce morale and reduced turnover. Therefore, organizations need a way of taking best practices from the work disability prevention management field and incorporating them into their operations.

This project aims to develop and promote a Work Disability Prevention Management System Standard that will help increase the capacity of employers to systematically manage work disability prevention activities. A standard in this area could help create better, safer, more sustainable workplaces and lessen productivity costs due to work disability by helping organizations implement work disability prevention best practices into their management system.

This project will be completed in three key stages:

  1. planning,
  2. standard development, and
  3. knowledge dissemination (including development of tools and resources)

This is a multi-stakeholder initiative involving labour/worker representatives, employers, occupational health and safety organizations, academics, educators, government, injured workers and disability groups.

We will follow the stringent process of the accredited national standards system, used by Canadian Standard Associations, including: Notice of Intent to develop the standard, balanced representation, public review and comment, internal process and quality review, and member voting.

Deliverables: Develop a consensus-based, evidence-informed national standard on Work Disability Prevention Management System (expected completion 2020)

Project manager: Bronson Du, MSc