Meeting the growing emphasis: Turning research into practice in occupational health and safety
Dwayne Van Eerd is one of the course leaders on our course on Research to Practice in Occupational Health and Safety. What is his background and how did he get interested in his field of research?
“I strive to facilitate the use of research evidence in practice both to prevent work-related injury and the work disability resulting from injuries.”
I have a background in Kinesiology/Ergonomics, and my research focuses on preventing work-related injuries, disorders, and associated work disabilities. Prior to my focus on research, I worked in clinical and workplace settings developing rehabilitation and prevention programs for musculoskeletal disorders for various sectors. At that time, I was frustrated about how challenging it was to find high quality evidence to support rehabilitation and work-disability prevention practices. Now, as a researcher, I strive to facilitate the use of research evidence in practice both to prevent work-related injury and the work disability resulting from injuries. In fact, my PhD research topic was knowledge transfer and exchange in work and health.
My research includes evaluations of various workplace practices and programs and their implementation including participatory ergonomics, musculoskeletal disorders, mental health, and violence prevention. In addition, I conduct evidence syntheses of the occupational safety and health literature. My research projects include an integrated knowledge transfer and exchange approach whereby workplace stakeholders can engage in various aspects of the research. This helps to ensure that the research is relevant and improves the uptake of our research into practice.
I worked as a clinician in multidisciplinary rehabilitation settings, developing and delivering rehabilitation for clients with musculoskeletal disorders. The bulk of the clients were performing artists (musicians, painters, sculptors, actors, and writers) as well as workers who used computers at their work. The team I worked with strived to provide evidence-based treatments. It was challenging to find high-quality scientific evidence, leaving little guidance for our practice. This was the inspiration for me to move into research in work-related injury and disability prevention. My focus was to conduct applied research that could be used by those who needed it.
Highlight, challenges and goals
It is always a highlight when I can meet with stakeholders interested in occupational health and safety to share some research finding that they may be able to use in practice. I find this a rewarding part of my job. Perhaps the clear highlight for me is when I hear an early-career researcher tell me that they engage with stakeholders and audiences and consider integrated knowledge transfer and exchange as the “usual” way to conduct a research project.
The key challenges that I have faced relate to reaching key workplace audiences to disseminate research findings. While funding challenges exist, there has been an increased emphasis on knowledge transfer from funders in recent years. However, reaching the various audiences that have an impact on workplace health and safety remains a challenge. Reaching workplaces directly is challenging and resource intensive. Few associations cover diverse audiences like employer associations, labor associations, workers’ compensation, insurance systems, and healthcare. Advances in knowledge transfer and exchange research as well as implementation science are helping us with these dissemination efforts.
I have two overarching aims in my research: to conduct high quality research that can be applied to protect workers from injury or disability arising from an injury; and to move this research into practice. My approach is to use an integrated knowledge transfer and exchange approach where the research team interacts with relevant stakeholders throughout the research process. While this approach is flexible, we typically meet with stakeholders at the beginning of a project to discuss the research question and get input on key OHS issues related to the project as well as suggestions for recruiting study participants and how we can ensure there are practical outcomes. We often meet with this advisory committee again to discuss preliminary findings and ask how we may best frame the findings for the target audience and whether there are tools we can develop to aid in getting the findings into practice. We then share the final findings and any tools developed with the stakeholders and ask them to help us disseminate them to broader audiences.
“There has been a growing emphasis from researchers and research funders on knowledge transfer and exchange. As a result, there has been more emphasis on moving research into practice.”
The importance of moving research to practice in occupational health and safety
Workplace and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) decision-makers and practitioners are charged with developing programs and practices to protect workers from injury and disease. They do this based on their disciplinary background education and training, their expertise on the job, and when possible, the latest research evidence. Some of our research has shown that most OHS practitioners strive to provide evidence-based solutions. However, they are often challenged in accessing and integrating research evidence.
There has been a growing emphasis from researchers and research funders on knowledge transfer and exchange. As a result, there has been more emphasis on moving research into practice. Researchers and research institutions are devoting more time and resources to knowledge transfer activities. This is an important endeavor but is still a relatively new aspect of the OHS research cycle. We need to conduct more research on how to best get research knowledge in practical/useable formats to OHS audiences. Currently there is no overarching theoretical perspective or model, but we can learn and build from those in healthcare and public health research to move forward in OHS research.
About the course
The course will provide participants with practical information about knowledge transfer and research to practice. There will be a focus on solutions to moving research to practice in a variety of contexts. This practical focus builds upon the theory and conceptual models from the literature as well as the experiences of instructors and participants alike. We will explore various approaches to disseminate, translate, and transfer research to knowledge users and encourage implementation of research into practice to improve worker safety and health. Our integrated approach is designed to lead to better understanding and to expand the tools and approaches we have, to get research into decision making and OHS practices. We look forward to engaging with OHS practitioners, policymakers, knowledge brokers and researchers to examine existing approaches and consider creative ways to expand upon them.
Course: From Research to Practice in Occupational Health and Safety, 16th – 18th of April 2024, Midgardur by Center Hotels, Reykjavik, Iceland