IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Immigrant Workers and OHS in Québec: State of Knowledge from Published Statistical Surveys and Available Data Sources


For several years, immigration in Québec has been rising sharply. The increase in this segment of the population is changing the characteristics of the workforce, which could have repercussions on occupational health and safety (OHS). In this context of labour force diversification in Québec, it is vital to learn more about the work characteristics of immigrants that could have an influence on OHS risks. This study aims to provide an overview of the immigrant labour force through an examination of previous studies whose analyses are based on statistical data, and by cataloguing population surveys that could serve to document the work characteristics of immigrants and the risks to their health and safety. A more thorough knowledge of the literature and the potential of databases built on population surveys will help guide the use of statistical data from Québec to support the research and to identify information shortcomings with respect to OHS and this group of workers.

The results of the literature review were divided into five main topics: the context and characteristics of the immigrant population; immigrants in the workforce; the conditions of work and employment for immigrants; the occupational health and safety of immigrants; temporary residents.

A number of differences between native-born Canadians and new immigrants were pinpointed through the analysis of the context of immigration and the sociodemographic characteristics of that population. Among others, immigrants are younger than the population as a whole, with higher numbers of males in the case of economic immigrants, a larger percentage have university degrees and they are generally in a better state of health when they arrive.

With respect to the situation of immigrants in the workforce, the studies show that new immigrants find it more difficult to enter the labour market than people born in Canada. In addition to being unfamiliar with the Canadian labour market, their work experience, their skill credentials and their diplomas are rarely recognized. Linguistic and cultural barriers also compound the difficulties experienced by immigrants.

The analysis of immigrants’ working conditions and employment revealed that for certain variables (training, jobs held, business size, etc.) there are few or no differences between immigrants and people born in Canada. However, the results fluctuate according to the variables considered (duration of residence, profession, sector of activity, etc.), the methodology chosen and the data source used.

Although there are many immigrants in the labour market, few quantitative studies have looked at the specific risks they face. One reason is that national surveys rarely include information on occupational injuries and working conditions and, when they do, the sample size limits the analyses. However, a bibliographic search identified some studies on the subject. One of them (Smith and Mustard, 2010) shows that immigrants are more exposed to OHS risks than native-born Canadians.

The literature review also looked at temporary immigrants. While it is difficult to estimate, studies show that this population’s numbers have risen since 2008. Among the studies selected, none provided statistics on temporary immigrants and OHS. However, the Preibische and Hennebry study (2001) underscores that the increase in numbers of temporary foreign workers, in particular, those who occupy low-skilled jobs, presents some challenges with respect to occupational health and safety.

The inventory of statistical data sources from population surveys enabled an assessment of their analytical potential for the immigrant population and OHS risks. In total, 12 databases were analyzed using two tools: the “worker, employment and threats to health” table and fact sheets. Overall, the variables used to characterize workers are very present in the surveys. However, although variables related to work organization appear, they were more focused on time at work then on psychosocial aspects. Another limit to the usefulness of these surveys is the absence of conclusive data on training that immigrants receive or on the accident prevention information transmitted to them in the workplace. We also note a serious lack of information about the variables related to working situations. Health threats and their consequences were documented in the literature and databases, but the specific topic of threats related to work is often neglected.

The review of the literature revealed that few statistical studies have used data on the health and safety of immigrant workers. Some key variables (such as duration of residence, profession or economic activity sector) could be useful in identifying vulnerable groups. In addition, the inventory of sources of statistical data clearly shows that none of them provides the means to draw up a complete portrait of immigrant workers and OHS in Québec. Taking the limits of the databases into account, the inventory highlighted the relevance of sources that could be used to understand or monitor the situation of immigrants in the labour market, in terms of certain aspects of OHS, or to compare them with those of native-born Canadians. Some research questions on the topic could be explored through the use of several data sources or mixed methods (qualitative, quantitative). Recommendations have also been made to organizations responsible for collecting data, because they determine the type and availability of information concerning immigrants and OHS.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
Research Project: 2012-0010
Research Field: Special Projects
Online since: October 01, 2015
Format: Text