Just Working Construction Inc., a small general contractor in Waterloo, garnered top honours in Ontario for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) Elizabeth Witmer Health and Safety Leadership Award for 2022.
It was recognized in part by the WSIB for its health and safety policies and programs that include daily, weekly and monthly safety meetings.
The contractor has translated those health and safety initiatives into various languages to accommodate the many newcomers it employs, says Jess Van Es, the company’s office manager, who also oversees health and safety.
Google Translate has proven a useful aid to overcoming language barriers for some of the contractor’s non-English speaking workers.
“We translated our health and safety policies mostly into Arabic and Spanish, the two languages we work with the most,” she says.
Patience can be a virtue.
“Sometimes it is just about slowly demonstrating (a construction process) and then having them repeat it,” she says.
Just Working Construction also provides a translator for employees taking off-site safety training courses.
Van Es says while it has been a challenge to integrate non-English speaking workers into the company it has been worth the effort and has resulted in a number of success stories among its workers.
One is from Zimbabwe who started as a labourer in 2017 and is now a site supervisor for the company.
Others have come from Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Eritrea, Syria, Romania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazil, Jamaica, Columbia and England.
“We’ve had people who come and go on to success with other construction companies or start their own businesses,” says Van Es. “It’s really been a launching pad for some to learn and earn a viable living.”
Van Es praises the company’s owner Jeff Van Gyssel, who was a volunteer helping place new Canadians in jobs in 2015 when he decided to found the company. At the time the contractor did odd jobs such as landscaping but today its grown to constructing projects such as a 20-unit affordable housing job in Kitchener-Waterloo.
“I think that our vision is to be an influencer in the corporate world, to demonstrate that you can simultaneously provide a good-quality product while making a difference in the lives of others. It is hugely satisfying,” she adds.
The WSIB award comes with a $10,000 prize.
Visit the company at www.justworking.ca.