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Research Questions

  1. What types of evidence exist in OSH?
  2. Who is using the evidence in OSH and what for?
  3. How are OSH decisions informed and what role does evidence play in this process?.
  4. Which agencies are involved in producing, translating and sharing evidence in OSH?

Occupational accidents, illnesses and fatalities are prevalent globally. Whilst the past decade has seen work-related accident and fatality rates plateau in many high-income countries, safety outcomes and disparities within and between countries remain prominent issues. Enhancing working conditions and making workplaces safer is necessary to decrease the number of fatalities, injuries and cases of occupational diseases, and to promote and safeguard psychological welfare.

Using evidence in occupational safety and health (OSH) decision making may help reduce rates of occupational incidents and diseases. However, the role evidence currently plays within OSH is unclear. Therefore, we developed a study to explore the role of evidence in OSH decision making, which considered what evidence is produced, shared and used, and by whom.

To answer the four research questions that guided the study, we conducted a rapid evidence assessment and stakeholder engagement activities (including secondary analysis of existing interview data, an online survey and primary interviews). Using this data we developed two conceptual models: one mapped the different actors and agencies involved in OSH decision making (structural model), and the other highlighted the processes involved in OSH and the role of evidence at an operational and systems level (process model).

Key Findings

Our findings highlighted that no single definition of 'evidence' existed in the OSH space. The literature and stakeholders we consulted drew upon various information and research sources for decision making.

The OSH evidence ecosystem contains multiple actors interacting in what we describe as the lifecycle of evidence, which refers to the production, synthesis, sharing and use of evidence at an operational and systems level. These include:

  • The academic and research community (mainly evidence production and sharing)
  • Government agencies, regulatory bodies and policymakers (evidence production, sharing and use)
  • Intermediaries such as professional bodies, consultants and OSH professionals (mainly evidence sharing)
  • Organisations/businesses (evidence production, sharing — mostly internally — and use).

Evidence used for decision making is used at both a local level and a systems level. Factors that influence decisions and evidence-use in decision making include: the legal basis and regulations, the business case (e.g. finances, staffing), culture and finally, evidence (e.g. existence, accessibility and relevance). In addition, an organisation's size can also impact these factors (i.e. larger companies are likely to have greater resources and more specialist staff than smaller companies), as can the country (affecting regulations, expectations and culture).

Recommendations

For evidence sharers:

  • Greater investment is required in knowledge translation.

For workplaces:

  • A workplace's safety culture is a key influence on safety outcomes and is greatly influenced by organisational leaders' and decision makers' values and expertise. The promotion of a positive safety culture among all workers is likely to be beneficial.

For researchers:

  • Further research is required to bridge the knowledge-to-action gap in how evidence is used (or not) to implement specific change.
  • Cost/benefit analyses of evidence-based practice are required to provide empirical evidence addressing perceptions that evidence-based practice is costly.
  • Collecting data on organisation sizes would be beneficial when conducting future research about evidence utilisation in OSH, as we found this to be a key influence.
  • Greater efforts to include representation from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are needed.
  • Decreasing the delay between the emergence of safety issues and the provision of new evidence that helps address them by increasing capacity within the system and horizon scanning for future potential issues.
  • Evidence ecosystems for specific countries, sectors and topics of interest is required to help identify OSH issues, highlighting areas that would benefit from further research or tailored interventions.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Lloyd's Register Foundation and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.