The language of safety is like the language of love—it is universal, diverse and affects every company and employee that speaks another language other than English. Protecting your employees is a tremendous responsibility and should be taken seriously because it is the law, according to OSHA.Making sure all employees fully understand safety messages, the policies, procedures, instructions and safety training is critical in protecting their exposure to workplace hazards.
But what about the challenges of “speaking” safety when English is not your first language?
I’ve given this topic a great deal of thought since I returned from a roofing industry event in Chicago. There, our Hispanic Outreach Coordinator spoke at a safety session attended by many Hispanic/Latino employees.
She has served as an interpreter for several law firms who have defended/worked with Hispanic employees who have been injured on the job. In her presentation, she emphasized the importance of being trained in the language of the employee. She also believes that language-based training should extend to activities, such as tool box talks and documentation including safety manuals and written programs.
Another concern was that some employers use interpreters to convey the information during training or from the foreman when giving specific job-site instructions to the Hispanic/Latino or Polish employees. If the trainer/foreman is not bilingual, how does he/she know what is actually being translated and if it’s done in the appropriate context? The effort is appreciated, but the consequences could be extremely costly.
It’s also important to realize that employees who speak different languages may have a limited education or technical understanding which affects the learning process—enforcing the need to for a system to measure the effectiveness of training whether you’re in manufacturing, fabrication, automotive, construction, retail, food, railroad, recycling or logistics.
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your employees are properly trained for their jobs and demonstrate that they fully comprehend and understand the information being presented to them. You cannot assume that your employees are comprehending the information because they simply sign a sheet of paper, sign into a training session or initial that they reviewed your safety manual.
Safety is complex in its own right and to have it misunderstood, improperly conveyed or misinformed could have tragic results for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, many Hispanic/Latino employees believe they are not being properly trained because they really don’t fully understand the training they are receiving, the necessity, and requirements for utilizing PPE, safety equipment, fall protection and fall arrest devices.
The language of safety is as important as the message being delivered. If the information is not delivered properly then it can’t be assumed that it’s being accurately understood. The importance of training is significant enough for OSHA to address it in their standards.
If the employee’s vocabulary is limited, the training must account for that limitation. By the same token, if employees are not literate, telling them to read training materials will not satisfy the employer’s training obligation.
As a general matter, employers are expected to realize that if they customarily need to communicate work instructions or other workplace information to employees at a certain vocabulary level or in language other than English, they will also need to provide safety and health training to employees in the same manner.
Of course, employers may also provide instruction in learning the English language to non-English speaking employees. Over time this may lessen the need to provide OSHA Act training in other languages. Additionally, OSHA’s training provisions contain a variety of specific requirements related to employee comprehension. Employers need to examine the standards applicable to their workplaces to be familiar with these specific requirements.
If you’re unable to effectively communicate your safety programs/training to your employees in a language they understand regardless of the industry or work environment, then please contact Safety By Design at (855) 747-2327. We have bilingual OSHA Outreach Trainers to ensure you’re not only complying with the OSHA standards, but to protect your employees, reduce their exposure, reduce your company’s liability and exposure to fines and possibly criminal prosecution.
Read this article in Spanish on the next page.