When Mina was asked by her boss to carry heavy boxes up a ladder and put them on the highest shelf in the storage room, she felt uneasy. The boxes were heavy, the ladder looked shaky, and the top shelf was a long way up. It just didn’t look safe.

Nonetheless, having finally found work in Toronto after arriving from India nine months earlier, she certainly wasn’t going to say anything. What if her boss got mad? What if he even fired her? She probably couldn’t even find the right words to express her concerns. No, she had better just do what she was told.

Mina didn’t know she could refuse to do work that she thought might hurt her, or bring her concerns to a joint health and safety committee. She had no understanding of her rights under Ontario’s health and safety laws.

Mina ended up falling off the ladder and injuring her back so badly she needed surgery. Her boss let her take three weeks off to have the surgery and agreed to keep paying her as long as she paid him back.

Mina was grateful. She had no idea she was eligible for benefits from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Researchers at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto heard stories like Mina’s and others while studying immigrant workers’ experiences with workplace health and safety. “Research indicates that Ontario’s newcomers are more likely than Canadian-born workers to be employed in jobs with a higher risk of work injuries,” says Dr. Agnieszka Kosny, the lead researcher of the study team. “Yet they receive little information in language-training classes or job-search workshops about their job health and safety rights and responsibilities, or what to do if they get hurt on the job.”

Kosny and her team decided to develop a toolkit to help settlement agencies, teachers of English as a second language, workplaces and others teach newcomers to Ontario about their health, safety and workers’ compensation rights and responsibilities. Called Prevention is the Best Medicine, the toolkit includes plain-language handouts in English for learners. It is free for download from: www.iwh.on.ca/pbm

Cindy Moser, Institute for Work & Health