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Hiring foreign workers? Here’s how to onboard them safely

Hiring foreign workers Here's how to onboard them safely

There's more work than workers to do it. Industries from manufacturing to hospitality are facing unprecedented labour shortages and turning to the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program for help.

Hiring temporary foreign workers and others, such as refugees, could be an ideal solution, but it means considering how best to onboard, train and support workers who are new to Canada.

"Having an open-door policy is really critical to successfully training and integrating foreign workers," says Jay Remsik, WSPS Health and Safety Consultant. "Often, foreign workers and other newcomers are away from friends and family, still learning the language, and in unfamiliar surroundings. It’s important that they know they can talk to their supervisor about any problems they may be experiencing and ask questions."

Planning ahead can help mitigate risks that may come with hiring foreign workers. Start by reviewing your new worker orientation and training program. Some elements may need additional explanation, such as workplace health and safety norms and expectations, and the role and responsibilities of joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) or health and safety representatives (HSRs).

"One of the best practices I've seen was at an agricultural firm who regularly hires temporary foreign workers. They added a foreign worker representative position to their JHSC, which led to increased participation from the temporary foreign workers. They were able to raise issues with someone who spoke their language."

If your organization is actively recruiting people from a specific region, make resources available in the regional language(s). For example:

  • Translate standard forms and procedures to facilitate the onboarding process. "You can also use infographics and pictograms to communicate basic procedures," suggests Jay.
  • Order required posters in various languages to ensure that your health and safety board resonates with employees
  • Consider hiring a translator to be onsite for their arrival and help deliver health and safety training. This is a good way to ensure understanding and demonstrate due diligence when it comes to providing training specific to the hazards and equipment that workers will encounter on the job.
  • Provide a user-friendly translation app to supervisors and others who will work closely with new employees and train them in its use. “A simple translation app can be an effective way to reduce language barriers in real time and keep communication open," says Jay.

What to cover on day one

Avoid overwhelming new workers with too much information by focusing on critical items. Here are three essential items:

  1. Explain workers' rights to know, participate, and refuse unsafe work. Worker rights vary from country to country, and these workers need to know they won't be sent home for speaking up or asking questions," says Jay. "This includes the right to a workplace free of violence and harassment, which could be entirely new for some workers."
  2. Provide a facility tour, clearly indicating the areas where they will work and any off-limit areas. Include exits, gathering points in case of evacuation, washrooms, first aid kits, and eye-wash stations. Make everyone familiar with the sound of common alarms, such as fire and carbon monoxide alarms, and what to do if the alarms sound.  
  3. Review required personal protective equipment (PPE) and training. While you can't cover all necessary health and safety training on the first day, you can ensure everyone knows which PPE they are expected to wear and the disciplinary action that will follow if they don't. "Make sure new workers understand training is required before they can use certain equipment," explains Jay. "For example, no one should operate a forklift without proper training. If a worker is asked to do so, they need to speak up and ask for the training."

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