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Safe, Healthy and Productive Workplaces: Learning from Research and Practice Conference 

Conference Overview  |  Conference Recordings​  | Speakers & Topics   | Full Speaker Bios  | Organizations & Sponsors ​​

Speakers and Topics

​Full Speaker Bios​

​​​​​​​Keynote & Plenary Presentations​

Collaboration ​between BC Transit, their unions and WorkSafeBC to Improve Return-To-Work (RTW) Outcomes: Implementation of Work Disability Prevention Best Practices

Brian Anderson

Vice President, Operations and Chief Operating Officer (COO), BC Transit

Ben Williams

President of Unifor Local 333BC

Ian Munroe

Former Vice President of Claims and Vice President of Employer and Worker Services, WorkSafeBC​​

This keynote presentation will discuss a journey in implementing a research to practice initiative to facilitate best practices of disability prevention. The strategic initiative began with Senior Leadership commitment from the CEO and Vice President levels from BC Transit. Each organization brought to the table Senior VP level sponsors, Business Leads, Project Managers, Subject Matter experts, communication teams and the employer’s senior union partners. What motivated them? How has the collaboration influenced their successful implementation? Hear their real life experiences and learn about their strategies and challenges. This session provides perspectives from the employer and their union in taking what the research tells us to practice. You will hear how these evidence-informed disability prevention best practices are being implemented from the Vice President, Operations and Chief Operating Officer (COO) for BC Transit and the President of Unifor Local 333BC, one of the participating unions.

Learning Objectives

  • List key work disability prevention best practices informed by current research
  • Identify challenges from an employer’s perspective to implementing a new Recover at Work program
  • Identify factors that positively influenced the employer’s culture
  • List strategies the employer used to successfully implement their program
  • List leading indicators to measure implementation of new processes​

Emotional Intelligence: How can we improve workplace culture and ​resilience?


Occupational Health Physician, Director, Student Support, School of Medicine, Director, Medic Support and the Centre for Psychosocial Research, Occupational and Physician Health, Cardiff University School of Medicine, Institute of Medical Education

There is a growing body of evidence that the workplace environment and culture is the key to improving well-being work productivity. Increased well-being often equates to reduced sickness absence and improved productivity. Today, many workplaces offer well-being opportunities alongside tighter processes to manage sickness absence. However, offering doses of well-being and mindfulness whilst helpful don’t seem to make a difference to the ever-increasing reports of stress, distress, and burnout. This plenary will discuss the importance of effective communication and Emotional Intelligence if we are to help build resilient, compassionate and productive workplaces in the future.  

Learning Objectives

  • Describe what emotional intelligence is
  • Discuss levels of evidence that support the practice of emotional intelligence in building resilience
  • Identify what policies and practices need to present in an organization that underpin its successful application

How to build better outcomes for the return to work conversation for healthcare providers and employers?​​​



It’s not just what you say but how you say it”. In the UK, research suggests that some healthcare providers believe that asking about work is important but not as important as discussing treatment. Conversations about return to work are often delayed leading to poor outcomes. It is not just healthcare professionals who struggle with conversations about health and work, line managers and human resource professionals also lack confidence in having effective and supportive conversations.

This plenary session will investigate the reasons that line managers and healthcare workers struggle with return to work discussions. What are effective models of change? How can we shift the attitudes and behaviours of both staff and patients/employees in terms of work and health? What does the research show? How can we increase the percieved value of these conversations and the confidence to have them? Are there best practices to use as models? Finally what tools are out there to support decision making for both physical and mental ill health?  ​

Learning Objectives

  • Describe when health care providers and employers should begin the return to work conversation
  • Discuss levels of evidence that support early discussions about stay at work and return to work
  • Identify key topics to be addressed in these conversations and their implication to improved patient/worker outcomes
  • Describe some effective change models, and identify some credible resources and tools

Avoiding Workloss from Musculoskeletal Problems – A Toolkit for Employers​

Anthony D Woolf,​ BSc, MBBS; FRCP​​

Honorary Prof​essor of Rheumatology, University of Exeter Medical School, and Plymouth Peninsula Medical and Dental College; Clinical Director of the NHS National Institute of Health Research Clinical Research Network Southwest Peninsula​

Musculoskeletal (MSK) problems such as back, shoulder and knee pain are the leading cause of working days lost in the UK – it is estimated that 31 million days a year are lost due to these problems. Musculoskeletal health is essential for nearly all forms of employment as it gives mobility and dexterity.  To support the promotion of MSK health and to prevent work loss due to MSK problems a toolkit to be used by employers has been developed for Public Health England by Business in the Community, Forster Communications and the Bone and Joint Research Group, Royal Cornwall Hospital.  The content is based on research evidence and on experiences of what employers and employees, including those with MSK problems, have found to reduce the impact of such problems on work.  It was reviewed by experts and piloted with a variety employers. It is aimed at any employer but recognizes those most in need of support are small and medium enterprises. 

Learning Objectives


  • Discuss why MSK health is important to employers and for their business
  • Describe what can be done to prevent MSK problems and reduce work loss
  • Identify strategies and tools that will help you achieve this, whether a small, medium, or large employer ​

Early Interventionfor Musculoskeletal Problems – A Toolkit for Healthcare Professionals

Anthony D Woolf,​ BSc, MBBS; FRCP

Musculoskeletal conditions are a major cause of work disability, resulting in absenteeism, presenteeism, job loss, and permanent work disability. Mobility and dexterity are needed for nearly all types of work, whether a construction worker, nurse or office worker. Musculoskeletal problems are very common affecting 1 in 4 adults and have an impact on work, whether they have arisen outside the workplace or or are attributed to a work activity. The best outcome for reducing the impact of MSK conditions is to intervene early, once it is clear that spontaneous resolution is not going to happen. Cost-effective has been shown in a Spanish study.

The challenge is how to implement this. A toolkit has been developed to enable the establishment of an Early Intervention System for musculoskeletal problems. The Toolkit is aimed at clinicians who wish to develop a EI system and commissioners who will need to resource it.​

Learning Objectives


  • Discuss why there is a need for an Early Intervention (EI) System - the impact of musculoskeletal disorders
  • Describe what is EI - the principles and in practice
  • List benefits of IE and the evidence
  • Describe what is EI in practice – case studies of best practice and strategies to implement EI Toolkit
  • List factors relevant to developing a business case and strategies to influence the system​


Scotland's Healthy Working Lives - Improving the Health of the Working Age Population​​


Ewan B Macdonald, OBE​

Professor, University of Glasgow; Head, Healthy Working Lives Group; Institute of Health & Wellbeing, University of Glasgow

In the U.K. less than 30% of all working people have access to occupational health and safety services . This was also the situation in Scotland where there is also an increased prevalence of poor lifestyles and the ill health associated with obesity, alcohol, and smoking.

Health care is provided by the National Health Services which is a free treatment service and which also provides the treatment for workplace injuries and work related ill health.  However the NHS does not have the same focus on rehabilitation and return to work after injury which is seen in countries where occupational injuries are treated by an insurance based health system or where the employer bears the cost of treatment, and where there is a fiscal stimulus to encourage prompt rehabilitation and return to work.

Recognising these factors led to the development of the Healthy Working Lives Strategy which states that all services should be focussed on "enabling individuals to be able to do as much as possible, for as long as possible, or as long as they want in their working and personal lives".

The subsequent development of intervention services, and their evaluation will be described.

Learning objectives:
  • understand the Healthy Working Lives paradigm ​
  • know what interventions may be effective 
  • know how to utilise the bio-psychosocial model

The Challenges in Helping an Ageing Workforce Extend Their Working Lives


Ewan B Macdonald, OBE​

Globally the workforce is ageing and retirement age is being extended. These workers and their employers face the challenges of increasing multi-morbidity, which pose new challenges for their occupational health and safety advisors who are responsible for keeping them well and at work.

Learning objectives:
  • understand the impact of co-morbidities
  • know the functional limitations of ageing and how to reduce these
  • know what workplace health interventions can be effective​

Economic Benefits of Early Intervention 

Robert J. Gatchel, Ph.D., ABPP


Distinguished Professor of the Department of Psychology, College of Science, and the Nancy P & John G Penson Endowed Professor of Clinical Health Psychology, The University of Texas at Arlington; Director of the Center of Excellence for the Study of Health & Chronic Illnesses

Despite the extensive evidence for the treatment effectiveness of interdisciplinary functional restoration (FR) for chronic disabling musculoskeletal disorders, there had been little documentation on the cost-effectiveness of early rehabilitation using FR. This presentation will present data from recent studies that have specifically investigated timing of interventions and impact on cost savings and return to work.  The presentation will also present new research providing evidence that workers who have been on long-term disability (up to 72 months) should not be considered “throw away” workers. There were a number of predictor variables found for successful outcomes, which can be used for future rehabilitation purposes.

Learning Objectives

  • Define treatment components in an interdisciplinary functional restoration program
  • Discuss cost effectiveness of early intervention versus delays in interventions
  • List some predictors for improving return to work outcomes for those on long-term disability participating in an interdisciplinary functional restoration program.​


Addressing Workplace Stressors Contributing to Poor Health, Decreased Productivity, and Prolonged Work Absence

Robert J. Gatchel, Ph.D., ABPP​

Current research has found many workplace stressors can contribute to negative health, productivity problems, and absenteeism. It has been estimated that the cost of worker-stress on employers alone was about $555 billion U.S. dollars in 2003 alone.  Workplace stressors consist of factors such as: role ambiguity (not having well-delineated tasks); role conflict (being given orders that are in direct opposition to each other); interpersonal conflicts and bullying; and high workload demands; just to name a few. These, in turn, can lead to: job-burnout; workday sleepiness due to sleep loss, resulting in poor work quality; exhaustion/fatigue; and absenteeism. All of these factors can also lead to increases in the risk for occupational work hazards and injuries, as well as physical and mental health problems (e.g., anxiety, depression, substance abuse, family distress, etc.). Fortunately, there are now many intervention and prevention approaches to help decrease the likelihood of increased stress in the workplace. This plenary session will provide an update on what is known about effects of workplace stress and effective prevention and intervention approaches to decrease work stress.​

Learning Objectives

  • Describe some of the negative consequences of workplace stressors
  • List some of the common workplace stressors according to evidence
  • Describe effective prevention and intervention approaches to decrease work stress​

Accommodating Employees with Nonvisible Disabilities in the Workplace: From Research to Practice​​

Izabela Schultz, PhD​

Professor, Rehabilitation Counseling Psychology, Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology and Special Education, University of British Columbia​

This presentation aims to respond to growing economic, societal and workplace concerns about performance, productivity, absenteeism and medical leaves of employees who have nonvisible disabilities, such as those with mental health problems, chronic pain, and learning disabilities and other cognitive and emotional problems. There is a significant gap between escalating nonvisible occupational disability statistics, especially in mental health, and the skills and knowledge resources available to employers, case managers, vocational rehabilitation professionals and healthcare providers. This presentation will help bridge this chasm by providing evidence-based guidance and best practices for accommodating these potentially vulnerable employees before chronic disability sets, to assist with a healthy and sustainable return to work and maximize productivity in the workplace.

Learning Objectives

  • To understand the impact of what is becoming a nonvisible disability epidemic on the workplace
  • To provide employer-relevant review of research on the impact of most prevalent nonvisible disabilities on work functioning;
  • To discuss the range of work accommodations available for cognitive, emotional, social and behavioural issues in the workplace;
  • To review common workplace barriers and facilitators related to effectiveness of accommodations;
  • To propose a conceptual model of work accommodations to inform multi-level interventions;
  • To highlight newest research advances that inform best employer practices in accommodations;
  • To discuss practical workplace scenarios that illustrate how accommodations can be a win-win scenario for employers and employees.    ​

​The Role Of Health-Care Providers In The Workers' Compensation System And Return-To-Work Process​​

Agnieszka Kosny, PhD​

Scientist at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto

International research has generated strong evidence that health care providers (HCPs) have an important role in the return to work (RTW) process. However, pressures on consultation time, administrative challenges and limited knowledge about a patient's workplace can thwart active engagement. During this talk I will present research findings from a large qualitative study with HCPs in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador. I will discuss their experiences seeing workers' compensation patients, barriers to active involvement in the RTW process, and strategies to facilitate engagement.

Learning Objectives

  • What HCPs in Canada are told about their role in RTW and in workers' compensation
  • How HCPs manage complex and invisible injuries in the context of workers' compensation
  • The challenges that HCPs face in the RTW process

​Discussion Sessions on Research Priorities


Workers' Compensation Boards, Public and Private Insurers – Trends and Future Research Priorities  - June 2, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Facilitators: Todd McDonald, Vice President, Claims Services;  Lori Guiton, Director of Policy Regulation and Research, WorkSafeBC

This break-out session is targeting senior leadership and managers from WCBs and other public or private insurers to consider future research issues and priorities. What are current and emerging issues where high quality scientific and applied research could help inform policy, training and practice? For instance, developing valid and reliable tools for identifying modifiable worker and workplace risk factors for work absence or return to work, using predictive analytics for customizing program design and delivery, understanding gender factors in RTW planning and outcomes, determining efficacy of treatment programs for mental health disorders, best practices for accommodation for people with invisible disabilities. What are your organizational priorities and how can we ensure research produces practical benefits that are related to the significant issues in workers compensation and insurance?


Employers, Human Resource Professionals, Labour – Information Needs and Research Priorities
June 1, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Facilitators: Normand Côté, Vice President and Practice Leader Organizational Psychology
Kelly Williams-Whitt, PhD Associate Professor, Faculty of Management, University of Lethbridge Elisabeth Ballermann, Secretary-Treasurer, National Union Public and General Employees

This break-out session will attract senior leaders and managers in human resources management and labour relations roles.  The purpose of the workshop is to discuss current and emerging issues where high quality scientific and applied research would help inform workplace policy, training and practice.  Examples might include best practices to prevent psychosocial stressors such as workplace conflict, determining the effectiveness of employer return-to-work/stay-at-work processes, job design to prevent work disability, or models of labour-management collaboration in accommodation. The workshop is intended to identify your priorities to ensure that research produces practical benefits for workers and employers.

Health Professionals and Direct Service Providers – Information Needs and Research Priorities
June 1, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Facilitators: Duncan Etches, MD MCISc, FCFP, Clinical Professor, UBC Dept of Family Practice; Shannon Wagner PhD, Professor, and Chair, School of Health Sciences, University of Northern British Columbia

This breakout session is specifically focused on the role health professionals and service providers play in occupational health management. Despite a growing body of research confirming the importance of the role these professionals play in occupational health management, important gaps in our knowledge remain especially in the implementation arena. For example, are we aware of the practical obstacles to integrating known best practices into primary care clinical settings -- and have we identified strategies and techniques for overcoming those obstacles? What measures should be used to assess optimal management and cost-effectiveness? What information and research gaps must be filled in order to translate existing evidence to inform optimal patient and worker outcomes?

Priorities arising from these discussions will be presented and discussed on June 3, 2017


Research Meets Practice: for Future Research and Development
(Panel And Audience Discussion) June 3, 2017  11:15 to 12:15 PM

Panelists: Todd McDonald , Duncan Etches, Normand Côté, Izabela Schultz, Robert Gatchel​​

Last Modified: 8/24/2017 3:55 PM