Newcomer Workplace Health and Safety Training

Canada is known for its progressive stance on immigration and for accepting refugees and asylum seekers from many countries around the world. Many newcomers bring skills, knowledge, and abilities that can be immediately applied to jobs here in Canada. However, health and safety laws and expectations differ in countries around the world. That may mean that newcomers, while possessing the skills and knowledge to do a job, may have vastly different understandings of how to work safely, what their health and safety rights are, and what exactly constitutes safety in the workplace. Tailoring safety programs toward newcomers will help to quickly ensure that standards and expectations align.

Training Packages: What to Include

Workers in Canada have three rights. They are:

  • The right to know
  • The right to participate
  • The right to refuse unsafe work

The three worker rights may be an entirely new concept if a newcomer comes from a country where workplace rights of this nature do not exist. It is not enough for your newcomer training package to just list the rights. Your training program must also include examples of when to enact each right, as well as steps and processes for how to exercise each right.

The Right to Know and the Right to Participate

Imagine the culture shock to newcomers who come from areas where the power distance is high (high degree of conformity to a traditional hierarchy). The right to know means that they have the right to know information about their safety and about potential and actual hazards. The right to participate means that newcomers can ask questions and report unsafe conditions. Ensure that training includes an explanation of “open door policies.” It may also be helpful to include some questions that newcomers may wish to ask. Include questions such as:

  • I’ve never used this machine before. Can you please show me the steps?
  • Do I require any personal protective equipment to use this machine/chemical?
  • Are there any hazards I need to know about before I start this job?
  • Do I require any specialized training before I work with this machine/chemical?
  • What are the hazards I need to know about?
  • Where are the fire extinguishers/first aid kits/emergency exits?
  • Is there an emergency response plan?
  • I may not have fully understood this important information. Can HR help me either have this information produced in my language or connect me with an interpreter?
  • What are my safety responsibilities?
  • Who can I talk to if I have a concern or question?

It is important to emphasize that asking questions and reporting unsafe conditions is a key safety responsibly of workers, including newcomers. Remember to be sensitive to the fact that some newcomers may be uncomfortable bringing forth concerns at first. Always meet concerns and questions with positivity in order to foster a culture of open communication.

The Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

All workers, including newcomers, have the right to refuse a job if they believe that they, or a coworker, will be put at risk for injury or illness. When training newcomers, spend some time explaining that this is a legal process and one that they have the full right to exercise. For some newcomers, refusing work is not only in conflict with high power distance cultures, but it also carries a stigma associated with indolence.

Be sure that training covers the proper steps required for a work refusal. As well, newcomers will require clear instruction about circumstances that warrant a work refusal to ensure that workers understand when to enact this right. Be sure to also include some examples of when a work refusal would not be appropriate. Include examples such as:

  • A window washer may not refuse to work from heights; however, they may refuse to work without fall protection.
  • An outdoor worker may not refuse to work outdoors when it is warm; however, they may refuse to work if no water is provided.
  • A worker may not refuse to work with a required controlled chemical; however, they may refuse if they haven’t received proper training, or if the appropriate PPE is not made available. 

Workplace Violence and Harassment

Newcomers may be new to the concept of workplace violence and harassment. This is important because laws that protect workers from mistreatment may not have existed in newcomers’ previous workplaces. It is also important because behaviours previously accepted may not align with Canadian laws.

Newcomer health and safety training needs to include workplace violence and harassment approached from two angles. The first angle needs to outline what is considered to be appropriate workplace behaviour. Set the expectation that all opinions, workers, and customers are treated with the utmost level of respect, regardless, of sex, class, creed, or gender. Canada is a very diverse country, with people from many different countries. Be sure to explain that respecting differences helps people find ways to work together safely and productively. It does not mean newcomers have to give up their cultural identity.

The other training angle of workplace violence and harassment that newcomers require training on is that they are entitled to protection from workplace violence and harassment. Be sure to define harassment, violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and bullying. Specific training on your organization’s workplace violence and harassment policy is important for all workers but be sure to really emphasize it in your newcomer training package. Why? Because, for some newcomers, the concept of protection from harassment will be new. As well, unfortunately, sometimes newcomers suffer more ill treatment from others because of their status. Help them understand that they should never be mistreated at work simply for being a newcomer. Go through the reporting process so that they know exactly who to talk to and the steps to take if they are a victim of harassment or violence at work.

Tips for Employers

Worker rights and workplace violence harassment are important components of a newcomer safety training package. However, it’s not all that’s required. In order to complete the newcomer safety training package, include the following:

  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Hazard recognition and hazard-specific training
  • WHMIS 2015
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) training, if applicable
  • Emergency response and evacuation plans
  • AODA

In addition to planning a training program that caters to newcomers, remember to train the rest of the workforce in issues such as culture sensitivity and communication.

In order to facilitate newcomer training, it is essential that language barriers be addressed, if any exist. The messages delivered in training is important and could be life-saving. If an interpreter is required for training, do bring one in or make one available. As well, training materials, policies and procedures, evacuation plans, and other pertinent written information needs to be made available to newcomers in a language that they can understand. The Ministry of Labour has rules for some of the mandatory posters, including the Employment Standards poster. They state, “the poster must be displayed in English. If the majority language of a workplace is a language other than English, and the ministry has published a version of the poster in that language the employer is required to post a copy of the translation next to the English version of the poster.” To see the list of available languages, click here. Service Ontario Publications also prints a variety of materials in various languages. Learn more by visiting Service Ontario Publications.

Welcoming Newcomers

Besides safety training programs, employers and coworkers can all make an effort to help newcomers acclimatize by making an effort to include them on a social level. Be sure to introduce yourself, make yourself available for questions or guidance, and ask questions to attempt to get to know your new coworker or employee. Chatting during coffee breaks or inviting a newcomer along for an after-work get-together could be beneficial in many ways:

  • It allows newcomers to practice language skills, and understand the nuances associated with English conversation
  • It allows everybody to learn more about another culture and the values associated with that culture
  • It promotes an exchange of ideas
  • Ensuring a good social fit reduces costs associated with turnover
  • Communication breeds understanding, which reduces conflict and stress in the workplace

Canada is known for making newcomers feel welcome, and Canadians are thought to be among the friendliest in the world. Prove everyone right by going out of your way to ensure that newcomers feel welcome in your workplace and that they receive the training they need to work safely. All Canadians, new and old, have the right to return home at the end of the day to their friends and family. Through training, communication, and understanding, your organization can help newcomers realize this important safety goal.

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


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