The Manitoba Workers Compensation Board (WCB) has been aware for some time of the need to reach out to newcomers. For example, in 2008, through its Community Initiatives and Research Program, it funded the Manitoba Immigrant Safety Initiative (MISI). That pilot, now ended, resulted in the production of fact sheets for workers in various languages, as well as a number of manuals for employers, all addressing the issue of workplace safety for immigrants (see the case study on IWH’s contribution to that project).
So when Manitoba’s WCB became aware that the Institute for Work & Health had developed a toolkit to teach newcomers to Ontario about their workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety (OHS) rights and responsibilities, it had an idea. Why not adapt the Ontario toolkit, called Prevention is the Best Medicine (PBM), to the Manitoba context, thus adding value to the resources it already made available to newcomers and their employers?
In 2012, Hilary Friesen, a manager of client and strategic services working with the WCB, approached the knowledge transfer team at IWH with the idea. IWH readily agreed, and the wheels were set in motion. By November 2013, the Manitoba version to the toolkit was online—available through the website of the WCB (www.wcb.mb.ca/prevention-is-the-best-medicine-a-toolkit-for-newcomers-to-manitoba). The WCB has since had the toolkit translated into French to increase its reach (www.wcb.mb.ca/trousse-la-prévention-est-le-meilleur-remède).
There has been tremendous response to the toolkit from both employers and settlement services, says Friesen.
Geetha Jayasinghe is with one of those services. She works with the Cross Cultural Community Development Program at the Manitoba Federation of Labour’s Occupational Health Centre.
When we saw the toolkit, we were thrilled about its range of information and the informal knowledge used to get the key points across, she says.
Its structure is perfect for use in a classroom, and we are very excited to use it in our workshops with newcomers.
The research behind the toolkit
The PBM toolkit was developed by IWH in response to a proven gap in the way information about OHS and workers’ compensation was being delivered to new immigrants to Canada. IWH Scientist Dr. Agnieszka Kosny and her research team had learned through previous research that newcomers were largely unfamiliar with their rights and responsibilities in these areas and that settlement services, language schools and government agencies provided very little information to them about OHS and workers’ compensation systems.
That’s when the idea for the toolkit took flight. Dr. Kosny and her team developed the toolkit with the help of both a multi-stakeholder advisory committee (including representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Labour and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board), and a large settlement service organization in Toronto called Skills for Change. In December 2011, the complete toolkit was made available for free download on the IWH website (www.iwh.on.ca/pbm). The hope was that the toolkit could be systematically delivered through settlement agencies and integrated into existing language, job search and employment programs for new immigrants.
The challenge of reaching newcomers
Despite the apparent popularity of the toolkit, getting its information to newcomers through settlement agencies and job search programs is proving problematic.
The information is important and useful, and newcomers are interested in it, says Roland Rhooms, director of programs and services at Skills for Change, and a key project partner.
Yet the 'how’ of delivering the information remains a challenge. Teachers and classroom facilitators don’t feel confident about their own knowledge on these topics. The burden on teachers to have to ramp up their own knowledge and fluency on these topics has meant some resistance to incorporating the tools into their lessons.
The same concern was echoed by Christine McKay, the communications officer at the Manitoba’s WCB.
We have spoken with service providers who feel uncertain about presenting this type of information because they feel they need to be experts in the subject matter, she says.
The IWH research team, in conjunction with its partners at Skills for Change, is assessing ways to overcome these barriers. One option is redesigning the toolkit to facilitate its delivery in a stand-alone workshop (rather than being incorporated into an existing course) that could be held two to four times a year. Another option is modifying the toolkit format and language so that newcomers could access and absorb the information themselves, rather than have the information delivered to them.