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New Canadians in your workforce? This manufacturer’s approach can help protect them and you

A group of employees having a meeting at a manufacturing plant.

Tyler Keenan, Safety and Environmental Assistant Manager at AISIN Canada, Inc., recently celebrated a health and safety milestone. He witnessed a new Canadian worker approach the company president on the plant floor and remind him to wear earplugs. Tyler was delighted. And the president? He offered the worker a handshake and a big thank you. 

Getting newcomers comfortable with the idea of “speaking up” has been an evolution, explains Tyler. “Many are reluctant to report an injury, ask a supervisor a question, or offer a reminder about PPE because of abuse they suffered in their home countries.”

Retaining new Canadian workers with strong safety culture 

AISIN manufactures auto components for Toyota and Lexus model cars, and is part of the global AISIN Corporation, a top 10 global supplier based in Japan. Three years ago, the Stratford, ON company, was hit by the same labour shortage that plagued all manufacturing sectors in Ontario. “New Canadians filled the gap and saved our business,” says Tyler. 

Since then, AISIN, under President Wayne Robert, has put a lot of effort into retaining these valuable employees. Today, it has 535 employees, the bulk of them newcomers, an impressive safety culture, a high job satisfaction rate, low employee turnover, and a low injury rate. 

To reach this point, it has had to overcome obstacles that hinder health and safety efforts. Newcomers are more vulnerable to injuries because of the fear of speaking up and a lack of English language skills. Tyler explains how these impact safety: “If we don’t know about an injury, we can’t focus our prevention efforts. And if workers can’t speak or write the language, safety messages are lost.” 

Tackling the last issue also meant ensuring that supervisors had the communication skills needed to be able to train, coach and mentor newcomers effectively. 

Consultant Carl Bonello, who provides health and safety training and support to AISIN, is very impressed with the work it has done to keep newcomers safe. “The company deserves to pat itself on the back.” But Wayne and Tyler are too busy looking for more ways to improve. 

Confronting fears 

Many newcomers equate ‘speaking up’ with being fired, punished or subjected to physical harm or bullying, says Tyler. In fact, one employee showed Tyler a bullet wound he received after being shot by an angry supervisor back home.

Tyler recognizes that overcoming such trauma takes time, patience and persistence. “We offer reassurance, by talking about how worker’s rights, violence and harassment policies and reprisal laws are designed to protect them.” This message is reiterated often at safety meetings, training, safety talks, and during one-on-one discussions with employees.

Supervisors are careful to not respond negatively when people do speak up – even if they are reporting an injury or something they did incorrectly, says Tyler. “And they are on the alert for signs of problems.” One supervisor knew a worker had been hurt by their body language. But the worker was afraid to report it for fear of being fired. Tyler stepped in, as he often does, to calm the worker’s fears.

Tyler also builds trust by telling newcomers about the company’s concern for their physical and mental health. On a recent company-wide walkthrough, Tyler and Wayne chatted with employees individually about anxiety, stress and other mental health issues, and provided resources and tips.  

“Things are moving in a positive direction,” says Tyler, "but it’s something we need to constantly work on.”

Addressing language barriers 

AISIN uses a variety of tools to ensure newcomers are able to understand health and safety instruction and training and communicate with supervisors. This includes taking advantage of technology and getting help with translation from existing staff who have learned English. “We have such a diverse workforce here,” says Tyler, “it’s hard to find a language that someone doesn’t speak.” 

Tyler and HR Manager Rosanne Stewart also want to make it easier for newcomers to learn English. “We are looking at a more comprehensive online language learning tool at the moment,” says Rosanne. She envisions the tool helping not just newcomers but also supervisors who “may want to learn to speak the predominant language of their work group, whether it is Hindi, Nepali, Russian, or another.”

Among other things, AISIN offers:

  • awareness training in an employee’s language of choice

  • copies of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in multiple languages

  • Google translate on every company phone

  • translation services during orientation and training courses

  • free access to Rosetta Stone, an online language learning tool 

  • a sizeable educational reimbursement so employees can take English as a second language training

Getting supervisors up to speed 

Being able to communicate effectively as a supervisor is not necessarily something that comes naturally, says Bonello. “It also gets very complicated when you have workers who don’t speak English, and young, inexperienced supervisors – many of them newcomers themselves.”

AISIN called on Bonello to help improve the way supervisors were conveying health and safety messages to newcomers. He adapted WSPS’s Effective Supervisor course to focus more on communication skills and delivered five sessions. Company managers and other leaders were included in the sessions so everyone would have the same skill base. 

Here are some of the tips they learned: 

  • use simple language, no jargon or acronyms, speak slowly, and enunciate clearly

  • speak softly, smile and make sure you have relaxed body language so newcomers are not intimidated

  • make eye contact to check for engagement. “Be aware of cultural stigmas that might prevent eye contact.”

  • during training, check for comprehension by providing quizzes. Have a translator in the room to help out. 

  • make yourself available after training or meetings. “Some newcomers are reluctant to ask questions in public because they are embarrassed. Tell them you will be available after the session, or at any time, to answer questions.”

How WSPS can help 

Contact a WSPS Consultant to learn more about how to support your supervisors and strengthen your company’s health and safety culture.


Other resources

Stay tuned to WSPS.CA for new videos and articles for workers that cover the top hazards in manufacturing. These videos will be available in English, Punjabi, Spanish, French, Tagalog and Mandarin.

The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date