Communication in the workplace is crucial to safety. A lack of English skills can make it difficult for newcomers to understand their rights and talk about health and safety issues.
To address this barrier to safety, the BC Federation of Labour is offering a free ESL workshop for workers. Participants improve their English while learning about workplace health and safety, earning a certificate at the end of the 14-week course.
Some include this certification on their resumes when looking for work, said Gord Lechner, director of the BC Fed’s Occupational Health and Safety Centre. I phoned Gord to find out more about this course they’ve been running for the past seven years. It’s one of the BC Fed’s four safety programs, funded by WorkSafeBC, along with training for health and safety committees, young workers, and migrant workers.
“In all our programs, we are looking for barriers people have in getting health and safety information and knowing their rights and responsibilitites in the workplace,” Gord said, explaining how the need for the ESL-focused program was identified.
“We looked at the demographic trends making up the workforce, both in BC and Canada, and we know that new immigrants to Canada is a group that’s growing significantly.”
Participants learn about employee and employer rights and responsibilities and topics such as workplace violence, preventing back injuries, workplace chemicals (WHMIS), and identification of hazards. The facilitator has a certificate in teaching ESL and designation as a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (BCRSP) – which is “a very unique set of skills,” said Gord.
I asked what participants say about the program.
“They tell us they gained the confidence to join their health and safety committee at work because they feel more comfortable with their English skills,” Gord said. “Often we hear them talk about a situation they’re dealing with at work. It could be potential for violence or working with chemicals, and they learn a bit more about what their rights are, along with avenues for finding out how to deal with the issues.”
The latest workshop series started September 11 and if you – or anyone you know – is interested in upcoming workshops, check out: Developing Communication and Health and Safety Skills Using English as a Second Language (ESL).
Thanks to Gord for talking with me and for his efforts to make safety more accessible to everyone.