IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Reference Framework for OHS Research

In keeping with the spirit of the Act respecting occupational health and safety (AOHS) and the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases (AIAOD), the IRSST’s mission is to contribute to workers’ health and safety through research, its laboratories’ expertise, and knowledge dissemination and transfer, with a view to promoting prevention and sustainable return to work.

To fulfill its mission, the IRSST has adopted research orientations and themes, which it pursues by drawing on its large in-house capacity in terms of knowledge, expertise and infrastructures, as well as an environment favourable to collaborative initiatives with scientific, financial and workplace partners.

To meet the occupational health and safety (OHS) needs of all workplaces, from the largest organizations to the smallest ones, the IRSST promotes multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, supports a variety of methodological approaches, and encourages the development and use of multifactorial and multilevel approaches. The research work conducted or funded by the Institute may be either applied or fundamental, with the latter potentially leading to benefits for workplaces.

Given that its mission must be fulfilled within a complex and constantly evolving legislative, economic and social context, the IRSST adapts its research work and funding to address issues that may emerge as this context changes.

image/svg+xml THEMES ORIENTATIONS Prevention of physicaland mental impairments Rehabilitation andsustainable return to work OHS data surveillanceand data mining Organization of work Population, societyand OHS Identification of hazards,estimation and assessmentof risks Mental and psychologicalhealth Elimination of hazardsand control of risks Metrology appliedto OHS

Research orientations

Orientation 1: Prevention of physical and mental impairments 

The research work related to Orientation 1 primarily concerns the chemical, biological, biomechanical, mechanical, physical, ergonomic, psychosocial and organizational hazards and risks that impact occupational health and safety. This work aims to advance knowledge on the prevention of occupational injuries that affect workers’ physical and mental well-being.

The objectives of Orientation 1 are:

  • to identify occupational health and safety hazards and analyze the related risk and protection factors,
  • to develop or validate methods and tools for assessing and measuring risk exposure,
  • to develop methods and tools designed to eliminate hazards at the source or to reduce and control risks,
  • to develop and evaluate interventions designed to prevent impairments to workers’ physical and mental well-being.

Orientation 2: Rehabilitation and sustainable return to work 

The research related to Orientation 2 aims to prevent or reduce the risk of prolonged disability in individuals who have suffered a physical or mental occupational injury. Research in the rehabilitation field supports the sustainable and safe return to work of these individuals by studying the personal, organizational, administrative, social or health system-related factors that facilitate or hinder smooth and sustainable return-to-work (RTW) processes. It also investigates modes of intervention designed to promote rehabilitation and sustainable return to work.

The objectives of Orientation 2 are:

  • to develop instruments for evaluating the health of individuals who have suffered a work injury and are at risk of prolonged disability,
  • to identify and evaluate the factors influencing sustainable return to work, be they personal, clinical, organizational or administrative,
  • to develop, implement and evaluate rehabilitation and sustainable-RTW interventions,
  • to develop, implement and evaluate rehabilitation measures designed to promote reintegration into work before the work injury has healed or consolidated,
  • to develop and implement tools designed for workers, employers, and professionals involved in rehabilitation and sustainable return to work.

Orientation 3: OHS data surveillance and data mining 

The research related to Orientation 3 aims to produce robust data on the state and evolution of the distribution of occupational injuries and OHS risk indicators in Québec. It also seeks to improve OHS knowledge surveillance and advancement capacities by mining data from multiple sources. This work is based on the use of secondary data pertinent to OHS and originating from statistical, government or research organizations, and on the analysis of administrative data from the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST).

The objectives of Orientation 3 are :

  • to identify and evaluate the basic and advanced indicators used for OHS surveillance in Québec,
  • to develop methods for estimating and modelling the trajectories of the surveillance indicators and their determinants,
  • to develop innovative approaches for visualizing and providing easy access to the results of the analysis of the trajectories of the surveillance indicators and their determinants,
  • to develop new OHS knowledge using analyses based on the matching of administrative and survey data.

Research themes

The six research themes identified emerge from the environment in which the IRSST operates and are aligned with its mission. Common to all three research orientations, these themes are consistent with the CNESST’s multi-year plan, with the needs expressed by workplaces or by stakeholders and professionals involved in OHS in Québec, and with the emerging problems identified by the scientific community.

Identification of hazards, estimation and assessment of risks  

The primary focus of this theme is to develop strategies for identifying hazardous phenomena to which workers may be exposed, and to estimate and assess the risks (chemical, biological, biomechanical, mechanical, physical, ergonomic, psychosocial, organizational) they face in workplaces, particularly in situations involving multi-exposure, cumulative exposure or vulnerabilities, exposure to different types of hazards (e.g., contaminants, noise and vibrations, work overload) or exposure to unregulated chemical or physical substances.Research work under this theme also includes the analysis of emerging risks associated with the use of new materials or substances, the presence of new pathogens, changes to industrial processes such as automation, robotization or electrification (in transportation, among other areas), or change and extreme weather phenomena.

Elimination of hazards and control of risks  

This research theme invites the scientific community to develop, evaluate and improve (1) ways to eliminate hazards and (2) measures for controlling and reducing risks identified in workplaces. It covers the five levels of the hierarchical control measures pyramid: elimination at the source, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE). The control measures targeted under this theme are both existing measures implemented in workplaces and new measures that involve emerging technologies. Controlling and reducing the risks created by technological changes are also included under this theme.

Metrology applied to OHS 

This research theme concerns the development and the evaluation of a variety of measurement tools (instruments, devices, methods, etc.) designed to estimate worker's exposure to all types of risks (chemical, biological, biomechanical, mechanical, physical, ergonomic, psychosocial and organizational). Research work also involves optimizing sampling methods in work environments, characterizing all types of contaminants (e.g. aerosols and nanoparticles) and developing improved measurement instruments and analytical methods (e.g. direct-reading sensors that allow for a continuous, real-time response). The development of psychometric scales and questionnaires, as well as their validation for certain populations of workers, also falls under this research theme.

Organization of work 

This research theme focusses on the role of work organization conditions in occupational injury prevention and worker rehabilitation. This role is particularly evident in communication and work coordination mechanisms, technical and technological processes, related occupations, task design, work demands, social relations, bonuses, management practices and systems, OHS structures and organizational culture. The organization of work is also part of a dynamic process that differs depending on the economic activity sector, which points to the need for a better understanding of the impacts of its evolution and transformation.

Mental and psychological health 

This research theme concerns the determinants (risk or protection factors) of mental and psychological health problems, as well as the prevention, intervention and rehabilitation measures designed to reduce them. These problems require taking into account work-related, non work-related and personal factors, as well as thoroughly understanding the complexity of prevention, rehabilitation and return-to-work actions, and better orienting these actions. Interventions on working conditions are showing promises in terms of improving mental and psychological health and need to be examined from the standpoint of identifying the working conditions that require changes, the changes to be made, the methods of implementation, as well as the evaluation of their effectiveness in prevention, rehabilitation or sustainable return to work.

Population, society and OHS 

Research work under this theme seeks a better understanding of OHS problems related to societal and population issues such as demographic changes, labour force shortages, the diversity of populations and workers, as well as the inclusion and the cohabitation dynamics observed between these workers. Ultimately, it seeks to identify the levers and resources facilitating sustainable prevention of occupational injuries, rehabilitation, and sustainable return to work in specific contexts.