Identifying and addressing research gaps
The review identified a number of gaps in the research. The most important was the lack of research whose explicit purpose was to study the effectiveness of voluntary and mandatory OHSMSs on employee health and safety and economic outcomes. There was an absence of research focused on the relative effectiveness of these initiatives. Moreover, the studies were seldom sufficiently rigorous methodologically to allow for great confidence in the reported findings. Their limitations also prevent certainty about their applicability to other workplaces.
The following were common limitations in the studies:
simple research designs (e.g., lack of comparison group, use of cross- sectional designs)
lack of consideration or control of confounding (through design or statistical adjustments)
lack of information about the sample (e.g., lack of information about refusal rates or the manner in which sample was drawn from sampling frame)
small samples (i.e., several single workplace studies)
The scarcity of high-quality published research on the implementation/ effectiveness of OHSMSs may relate to the difficulties in carrying out research under conditions ill-suited to scientific rigour. OHSMSs are – by their nature – complex, broad in scope, and continuously evolving. In addition, the conditions surrounding workplaces and within workplaces are difficult to control and difficult to measure.
Thus, while the randomized control trial design is the gold standard for many clinical effectiveness questions, it is often not feasible for OHS interventions with study units at the workplace- (Cole et al., 2003) or jurisdiction-level. Furthermore, to measure effectiveness, one must carry out resource-intensive new measurement or else resort to using limited, lower-quality administrative data like workers’ compensation claims.
There are several reasons why a major intervention such as an OHSMS is extremely challenging to study and evaluate. First, it’s often difficult to recruit workplaces. The refusal rate of 67 per cent experienced by Pearse (2002) in the Australian fabricated metal industry is not surprising. Also, those who agree to participate might need to invest a considerable amount of decision-making and resource allocation to support the intervention and evaluation. Finally, coordinating and tracking events in multiple workplaces is a formidable logistic challenge.
Institute for Work & Health