Research Focus

Our Institute places focus on the following three areas:

Mental health in the workplace:

A survey of Thunder Bay employers found that 40% indicated mental health as a high priority issue (Thunder Bay District Health Unit, unpublished). Mental illness is to the 21st century what physical industrial diseases were to the 19th and 20th centuries. Identifying, developing, implementing and evaluating tools and interventions designed to mitigate impacts of mental health disorders on workers and workplaces remains an ongoing challenge.

One of our goals is to understand how the workplace environment entitles or prevents bullying behaviour in workplaces. We intend to develop strategies workplaces can use to prevent workplace bullying and its impact in their organizations. Bullying and lateral violence have been identified by Indigenous workers to be a substantial problem. Therefore, we have a number of studies assessing the problem and attempting to provide strategies to assist those in need.

The Institute has attracted a number of students interested in workplace mental health. Given the importance of this topic to local employers, we are well positioned to address stakeholders’ and knowledge users’ concerns in this area for a number of years. We will continue to build on current collaborations with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (Superior Mental Wellness @ Work), and others to address this important topic.

Dr. Kathy Sanderson, with considerable experience working in the area of mental health in the workplace, is the theme leader for this area of the Institute.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI):

This research area specifically addresses areas of equity, diversity, and inclusion. All workers should have equal opportunity to participate in the labour market without experiencing excess risk to harmful exposures leading to adverse health events, including injury, disability, or death. If adverse health events, there should be equal access to health care and compensation, such that all populations can experience a safe and appropriate return to work or appropriate compensation for their loss from the labour market. In Northwestern Ontario, these populations include Indigenous, immigrant, injured (or workers with disabilities) and young and older workers.

Major areas of interest include understanding labour force participation, work productivity, and disability from the Indigenous perspective. Indigenous workers’ perceptions of work, work productivity, and disability may not align with the colonial definitions of these terms. We are trying to better understand these issues from an Indigenous/post-colonial perspective. Our partnership with the Nokiiwin Tribal council has resulted in the development of a “Wiiji” app to help Indigenous workers in a mental crisis situation in the workplace. We currently have a project ongoing to evaluate the app. Another project, led by Dr. Kathy Sanderson, is determining the inclusion and diversity barriers that are faced by new immigrants, organizations and communities within Northwestern Ontario.

Future projects intend to develop a supervisor training program for employers of Indigenous workers; investigate the potential for scaling up the “Wiiji” app; identify risks associated with immigrants in the trades; and determine what factors are associated with workplace inclusion form the perspective of employers and workers with disabilities in the trades.

With substantial experience working with populations of special interest, Dr. Manal Alzghoul is the theme leader for this area of research.

Knowledge Mobilization and Implementation (KMI):

Historically, much research evidence would sit on a shelf in a library and not be followed through to action. This area of research focuses on the use of interactive approaches to create/co-create knowledge to increase its relevance and uptake into practice and policy. In addition, it seeks to build the body of evidence by also studying the knowledge-to-action processes and outcomes to identify promising practices in the implementation and ongoing use of research knowledge.

The Institute is working to build capacity in this area. The RE-AIM (Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance) approach will be used to ensure that all current projects have a strong KMI component; opportunities for KMI evaluation among existing projects will also be explored. We also aim to create educational opportunities for both researchers and community members to build capacity related to KMI.  Working with our many and varied partners and stakeholders, we will identify preferred knowledge products and tools to mobilize and implement important research findings to improve the health and safety of workers in Northwestern Ontario and beyond.

Dr. Lynn Martin is the lead for the KMI research area.