What research can do: IWH newcomer training resource sees uptake by various groups in Canada

Published: February 12, 2020

Newcomers to Canada often lack knowledge about occupational health and safety (OHS) issues or about their rights and responsibilities in the event of a work injury or illness. The Institute for Work & Health (IWH)’s Safe Work Toolkit, published in December 2019, is designed to help settlement agencies provide this training to their newcomer clients. This toolkit is an update of Prevention is the Best Medicine, first created in 2011. Like its predecessor, the Safe Work Toolkit contains learners’ fact sheets, trainers’ guides and slide presentations to help trainers run sessions.

Since its release in 2011, the toolkit has been used by different types of stakeholders, in Ontario and beyond. One Ontario agency that turned to the toolkit was KEYS Job Centre, a non-profit organization providing employment services in Kingston. In their first jobs, many newcomers face hazards they’ve never encountered before and they may not be aware of the risks, said Karl Flecker, an immigrant employment specialist at KEYS.

Like many similar centres, KEYS offers job-preparation workshops and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes. But there was a curriculum gap. There was no information about OHS, workers’ rights or workplace injury, Flecker said. KEYS employment specialists began to use material from the IWH toolkit in 2015 and encouraged ESL instructors to do the same. It helped foster discussions with learners about workplace rights and responsibilities.

Beyond connecting people to a job, it’s important to prepare them so they are likely to speak up if there is an issue at work, Flecker said. Indeed, after they started offering the enhanced programming, KEYS saw a marked difference in post-hire follow-up conversations. Our clients are telling us about health and safety issues at work and reporting incidents, noted Flecker at the time. We are slowly building empowerment.

In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) needed a plain-language guide about rights and responsibilities and approached IWH in 2017 to adapt the toolkit for new workers. “The materials are a great resource for workers in the North—not just for newcomers, but also for the isolated and remote aboriginal population whose primary language is not English,” said Meta Antolin, an OHS specialist at WSCC who works with communities to develop their OHS programs. She added that introducing workers to their rights and responsibilities goes hand in hand with promoting safer work conditions in the North.

The WSCC adapted the IWH toolkit to include legislation from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Although its focus was on the modules that addressed OHS, the commission also found a demand for information on workers’ compensation rights and responsibilities.

Elsewhere in Canada, the Alberta Workers’ Health Centre (AWHC) in Edmonton also adapted the IWH toolkit. AWHC provides services and programming to assist Alberta workers with their health, safety and work injury concerns. In 2013, the centre partnered with community groups to start the New Alberta Workers project, a province-wide program that taught temporary foreign workers, immigrants and refugees about their OHS rights and responsibilities. Borrowing from the IWH toolkit, the team created a health and safety rights guide, workshops and peer-to-peer training. OHS concepts are not easy to teach, especially when language, literacy and cultural issues are at play, said Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull, AWHC’s executive director. The IWH toolkit helped us frame Alberta’s legislation in plain language.

Lori Shortreed, coordinator of the New Alberta Workers program, said the toolkit’s modules for teachers helped build capacity in peer-to-peer training workshops. We used parts of the modules to train multicultural brokers—that is, front-line settlement and employment advisors—who knew very little about OHS, she said at the time. The [modules] are simple, clear and concise, and gave the peer trainers more confidence with the information. The program, which ran until the end of 2017, reached more than 2,900 workers.

This column is based on an IWH impact case study, published in December 2017, available at: www.iwh.on.ca/impact-case-studies.