Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Identifying knowledge activism in worker health and safety representation: A cluster analysis

Document type Article
Author King, Andrew
Author Hall, Alan
Author Lewchuk, Wayne
Author Naqvi, Syed
Author Oudyk, John
Journal American Journal of Industrial Medicine
Volume 59
Date 2016
ISSN 1097-0274
Pages 42-56


Background: Although worker representation in OHS has been widely recognized as contributing to health and safety improvements at work, few studies have examined the role that worker representatives play in this process. Using a large quantitative sample, this paper seeks to confirm findings from an earlier exploratory qualitative study that worker representatives can be differentiated by the knowledge intensive tactics and strategies that they use to achieve changes in their workplace. Methods: Just under 900 worker health and safety representatives in Ontario completed surveys which asked them to report on the amount of time they devoted to different types of representation activities (i.e., technical activities such as inspections and report writing vs. political activities such as mobilizing workers to build support), the kinds of conditions or hazards they tried to address through their representation (e.g., housekeeping vs. modifications in ventilation systems), and their reported success in making positive improvements. A cluster analysis was used to determine whether the worker representatives could be distinguished in terms of the relative time devoted to different activities and the clusters were then compared with reference to types of intervention efforts and outcomes. Results: The cluster analysis identified three distinct groupings of representatives with significant differences in reported types of interventions and in their level of reported impact. Two of the clusters were consistent with the findings in the exploratory study, identified as knowledge activism for greater emphasis on knowledge based political activity and technical-legal representation for greater emphasis on formalized technical oriented procedures and legal regulations. Knowledge activists were more likely to take on challenging interventions and they reported more impact across the full range of interventions. Conclusions This paper provides further support for the concepts of knowledge activism and technical-legal representation when differentiating the strategic orientations and impact of worker health and safety representatives, with important implications for education, political support and recruitment.