The Institute for Work & Health (IWH)’s toolkit for newcomers is filling a gap in programming for organizations helping new workers enter the labour market or stay safe on the job. The toolkit, first published in 2011 as Prevention is the Best Medicine, is designed for use by settlement agencies and others to teach newcomers to Ontario about OHS and workers' compensation rights and responsibilities. And although Ontario agencies have certainly taken up the toolkit, its use has gone far beyond the province’s borders.
Learning about rights while seeking employment in Ontario
One of the Ontario agencies that has turned to the toolkit is KEYS Job Centre, a non-profit organization providing employment services in Kingston, Ontario.
In their first jobs, many newcomers face hazards they’ve never encountered before and they may not be aware of the risks, says 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 Flecker—who has a background in labour issues—noted a curriculum gap.
There was no information about OHS, workers’ rights or workplace injury, he explains.
To fill the void, KEYS employment specialists began to use material from the IWH toolkit in 2015 and later encouraged the ESL instructors to introduce toolkit material into their classroom training. More recently, the employment specialists used IWH toolkit material in facilitated group meetings with workers to discuss 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 says.
Since they started offering the enhanced programming, KEYS staff have noted a marked difference in post-hire follow-up conversations.
Our clients are telling us about health and safety issues at work and reporting incidents, notes Flecker.
We are slowly building empowerment.
Developing OHS programs in remote communities
The need for a plain-language guide about rights and responsibilities was a draw for the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) for the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. They approached IWH in 2017 to adapt the toolkit for their 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, says Meta Antolin, a WSCC OHS specialist who works with communities to develop their OHS programs. Antolin says introducing workers to their rights and responsibilities goes hand in hand with promoting safer work conditions in the North.
The WSCC is adapting the IWH toolkit to include legislation from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Although their focus is on the modules that address OHS, they are also finding a demand for information on workers’ compensation rights and responsibilities.
Capacity building helps worker centre reach more newcomers
Elsewhere in Canada, the Alberta Workers’ Health Centre (AWHC) in Edmonton also adapted the IWH toolkit. The 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 to teach temporary foreign workers, immigrants and refugees about their OHS rights and responsibilities. The team borrowed from the IWH toolkit to create a health and safety rights guide, workshops and peer-to-peer training.
The IWH toolkit helped the team make their program more accessible.
OHS concepts are not easy to teach, especially when language, literacy and cultural issues are at play, says Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull, the Centre’s executive director.
The IWH toolkit helped us frame Alberta’s legislation in plain language.
Lori Shortreed, the program’s coordinator, also notes that, even in plain language, newcomers just don’t see OHS as a top priority, and the topic can seem rather dry. She found the graphics from the IWH toolkit were a hit with her students.
The images are culturally neutral and fun, and they really brought the sessions alive.
Shortreed found the IWH teacher’s modules helpful for capacity building 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 says.
The [modules] are simple, clear and concise, and gave the peer trainers more confidence with the information.
The New Alberta Workers project was funded for four years, until the end of 2017, reaching more than 2,900 workers.
A focus on migrant workers
The reach of the IWH toolkit has also extended across the globe, to Australia. WorkSafe Victoria is a state government institution providing workplace safety and return-to-work services, as well as compensation to injured workers. In 2017, WorkSafe Victoria began a project focused on empowering and protecting migrant workers and other culturally and linguistically diverse workers.
WorkSafe Victoria staff were looking for a plain-language resource on which to model communication of core messages about OHS and workers’ compensation.
The IWH toolkit is highly relevant for us—it covers all the basic concepts we want to convey to migrant workers in our jurisdiction, says Ryan Green, a program manager at WorkSafe Victoria. The team adapted the IWH toolkit for the project and aims to promote and distribute it in advance of their spring 2018 season.
We expect it will be a very useful resource for [those who] assist vulnerable workers and for the industries employing them.
In 2017, IWH began updating the toolkit to include recent changes to Ontario’s OHS legislation. Although created for Ontario,
it was exciting to learn that organizations outside the province are also using the toolkit, says Agnieszka Kosny, the IWH scientist behind its development. Basic OHS concepts and an introduction to workers’ statutory rights and responsibilities are of fundamental importance to improving the safety of work for newcomers everywhere, and the IWH toolkit is a much-needed resource.
The fact that it is in plain language, in an accessible format, and freely available, certainly helps, she adds.