OHS Canada Magazine

New WorkSafeBC fellowship increases OH&S research capacity in Canada 

Award honours late Ralph McGinn, global health and safety leader


WorkSafeBC has awarded the first two recipients its inaugural Ralph McGinn Postdoctoral Fellowship — a new grant that supports doctoral graduates who are training for careers as academic researchers in occupational health and safety or work disability.

The goal of the fellowship is to build research capacity in Canada and attract highly skilled, early-career researchers to the field.

“While there are many funding opportunities for all health researchers in Canada, funding dedicated specifically to occupational health and safety is rare,” says Deepani Weerapura, the Senior Manager at WorkSafeBC overseeing the Research Grants program.

However, while dedicated OH&S research funding is less common, the need for credible research is critical, according to a WorkSafeBC press release.

“Compensations board and regulators are big consumers of these types of studies,” Weerapura says. “Scientific research enables better policy decisions. To best serve injured workers, we must ensure knowledge and evidence-based research are contributing to relevant policies and practices.”

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While WorkSafeBC has offered research grants at the Master’s and Doctoral levels for some time, adding an avenue to support post-doctoral researchers, rounds out the program and WorkSafeBC’s commitment to building research capacity in Canada.

Two awardees were selected as the inaugural recipients from 19 applicants.

  • Dr. Sonja Senthanar research examines the relationship between rehabilitation services among immigrants compared to Canadian-born workers. There are currently no studies that have examined the impact of these services on return to work (RTW) outcomes and the work disability experience amongst immigrant workers, even though immigrants comprise almost 28 per cent of the British Columbia workforce and are over-represented in employment prone to work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Dr. Heather Johnson’s research project is to determine the risk factors and hazards common between work-related psychological injuries and musculoskeletal injuries(MSIs), as well as to explore how Canadian workplaces can address these common risk factors.

The award was created to honour the legacy of Ralph McGinn, who passed away suddenly in 2020. McGinn was a global leader in workplace and health and safety and the former chair of the WorkSafeBC Board of Directors.

Each awardee will receive $50,000 per year for two years with the option to renew for a third year upon successful re-application.

The award is open to researchers holding a postdoctoral position at a Canadian university or research institution. Applicants must be within four years of completing their Ph.D. and commit to spending a minimum of 75 percent of their time on research activities. Research projects should be aligned with WorkSafeBC’s mandate and research priorities.