MFL Occupational Health Centre: Educating newcomers about workplace health and safety

photos showing MFL OHC services

Various photos  by MFL OHC .  © Used by permission

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Interview with Geethanjalie Jayasinghe, Counsellor/Community Development Worker

Do you know your workplace’s health and safety guidelines?

Most of us don’t bother to know these rules unless we do tasks that are outwardly risky like say, handling chemicals or operating heavy machinery. We often focus more on what we need to do than the conditions we operate in. This is unwise considering that our health and wellness are the two main components that allow us to participate fully in the workplace (and in other areas of our lives). Even businesses know that keeping employees healthy avoids costs and lost productivity. This is why in Canada, maintaining a healthy and safe working environment is a priority in all workplaces. Your rights are protected and outlined in the Canada Labour Code and in Manitoba, the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

To further ensure that these guidelines are observed and that workers are protected, the MFL Occupational Health Centre was established. Since 1983, it has been working to help employees, employers, and joint health and safety committees to improve workplace health and safety conditions and eliminate hazards. We spoke to Geethanjalie Jayasinghe, Counsellor and Community Development Worker of OHC to tell us more about how the organization helps newcomers:

English Online (EO): Please tell us more about MFL Occupational Health Centre.
Geethanjalie Jayasinghe (GJ):
This is one of the community health clinics funded by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This is the only community health clinic for workers’ health which means that we work with work-related injuries, diseases and hazards. It was established in 1983 to meet the need for quality, accessible and comprehensive services on workplace health and safety.

It’s very small but unlike other clinics, it serves the whole of Manitoba. We have two occupational health physicians, two occupational health nurses and two social workers including me. We also have an ergonomist (note: ergonomists ensure that equipment and products are safe and easy to use). Our admin staff is composed of the executive director and a resource center coordinator.

We are funded by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and we also have some projects funded through the WCB (Workers Compensation Board) as well as IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada).

“The newcomer population is one of the most vulnerable groups at work as they are often employed in low paid and unsafe jobs, work as many hours as possible and because it’s a new environment for them.”

EO: What services do you provide newcomers?
GJ:
My job is to work with newcomers in the community. As a Community Development Worker and Counsellor, my main responsibility is to educate newcomers about workplace health and safety. I also provide short-term resource counseling for newcomers with work-related injuries or illness.

The newcomer population is one of the most vulnerable groups at work as they are often employed in low paid and unsafe jobs, work as many hours as possible and because it’s a new environment for them… Most of these newcomers (especially with the language barrier) don’t know about workplace health and safety. So that’s what we do – we educate them about workplace health and safety. Every year we recruit participants from different cultural communities and train them through our Train the Trainer Program. The Trainers then go on to provide workshops on Workplace Health & Safety in their own language to their community members. We work with almost 20 communities such as Eritrean, Ethiopian, Filipino, Chinese, Somali and many more. We also have a Cross-Cultural Community Advisory Committee working with us closely to oversee and provide direction to our work with newcomers.

MFL Occupational Health Centre can help you

  • Determine if your job is affecting your health
  • Identify health and safety issues
  • Find solutions to health and safety problems
  • Conduct workplace based surveys
  • Deliver educational sessions
  • Develop in-house training programs

You can download the MFL Occupational Health Centre brochure to see their complete list of services.

EO: Who can receive your services?
GJ:
OHC’s services are available free of charge to all residents of Manitoba. Our newcomer community workshops are available to permanent residents.

EO: Where can we find more information about the services you offer to newcomers in terms of safety?
GJ:
You can find information in our brochures. We also have translated factsheets on health & safety in a variety of different languages available on our website. Most newcomers who get injured do not know how to make a workers compensation claim or how to get the benefits. So we help them through resource counselling and through the help of the community trainers (WCB Reporting an Injury brochure).

There are so many resources for newcomers right now but they are the ones who use them the least. There are more organizations out there that can help them compared to before. I came from Sri Lanka almost 29 years ago and at that time, the only place we could go to was the Immigrant Centre. Back then, I had a hard time validating my qualifications. I went back to school and did find a job but it was not easy. I came here knowing English but imagine people coming here who are not fluent in English and without credentials. It is very important for newcomers to learn English language. It is hard but not impossible.

EO: Do you have a message/advice for newcomers who may need more settlement support?
GJ:
To settle here in Manitoba, you should work on language proficiency and on your qualification to find a job and build the career you want. Get job experience and build on this to move further. Integrate into the community and socialize with others not only in your own community to understand the culture, new environment and the language.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

MFL Occupational Health Centre
102-275 Broadway, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3C 4M6
Phone: 204-949-0811; Fax: 204-956-0848
Email: mflohc@mflohc.mb.ca Web: www.mflohc.mb.ca

Geethanjalie Jayasinghe, BSW, RSW
Community Development Worker/Counsellor
Direct line: 204-926-7908
Email: gjayasinghe@mflohc.mb.ca

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