Friday, October 20, 2017

Translate Safety Standards for Limited English Speaking Employees

Successful businesses know that preparation and training are imperative when it comes to protecting your workers and compliance with the law. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conducted research that identifies migrant workers as a particularly vulnerable group of workers. They concluded that:
  • Migrant workers’ knowledge of health and safety standards can be limited;
  • HSE is virtually unheard of among migrant workers;
  • The understandable desire by migrant workers to work hard and to stay out of trouble can lead to employers cutting corners on health and safety without being questioned.

Inadequate Communication

Naturally, incidents occur due to a wide variety of factors. However, a risk-enhancing factor with migrant workers is inadequate communication, such as limited understanding of spoken or written English, or poor comprehension of signs or signals.

Therefore, when looking at training, as well as policies and procedures, it is imperative that that you consider that your workers:
  • May not understand health and safety training/instructions given;
  • May misunderstand critical safety communications or hand signals from work colleagues, or be unable to use them to warn others in an emergency;
  • May not be able to communicate effectively with supervisors;
  • May not understand each other, even if they come from the same region of the world or are from similar ethnic groups.
OSHA requires employers to provide safety training and protection in an employee's native language. If an employee does not speak or comprehend English, instruction must be provided in a language the employee can understand. Many industries with employees who work with hazardous chemicals, such as the janitorial industry, hire large numbers of employees with limited English language skills. Yet understanding and following product instructions is not only necessary to do these jobs well, but is critical to working safely with
hazardous chemicals. Dangerous fumes created from improperly combining reactive chemicals can not only harm the worker, but also the occupants of the buildings they maintain.

Without a good understanding of English, it is difficult to read warning labels and Material Safety Data Sheets. Workers may again lack the language skills necessary to ask questions and report problems to their supervisors.

Legal Issues 

Language barriers also need to be considered from a legal perspective. Some courts have found language discrimination to be equal to discrimination based on race or national origin. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, an employer may not deny an employment opportunity because the applicant is not proficient or fluent in English, unless the job actually requires some English language skills, and the person does not possess the particular type and level of English language skill required to do the job.

Companies across all industries should understand that language barriers will continue to grow. Continued effort needs to be publicized to businesses of all sizes that translation resources, such as eLearning training translated by translation companies, are available.

Coordinated efforts with community leaders, government, educational institutions, trade associations, and labor unions are imperative so companies can fulfill their own economic needs and make sure they send their employees home safely each night.

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