Safety and Multilingual Workers

How you train and communicate with construction workers could affect your company’s overall safety.  If your workforce is multilingual, language barriers could cause safety barriers.  OSHA requires that companies provide safety policies, training and associated materials in the individuals’ native language.  Learn more about safety and multilingual workers.

Simply posting a job advertisement in another language doesn’t meet OSHA’s standards for safety.  And, because you believe in keeping your workers safe, you know there is more to be done too.  Maybe you already have all the needed materials and presentations in a variety of languages to meet your crews’ needs.  Even so, you may have overlooked some other challenges that surface when dealing with a variety of languages.

Don’t assume all your workers have a high level of literacy.  All too often, safety materials are written at a certain literacy level.  But, if you have a worker that is below that level of literacy, there will likely be missed concepts. No where is this truer when technical terminology is used.  This can present huge safety issues if certain concepts are missed.

It’s common for a worker, in any industry, regardless if the worker is a native speaker, to say the material is understood, when it isn’t.

Have another source in addition to printed materials.  Have a person-to-person or video training in the person’s native language.  If the worker can’t comprehend the information through the printed materials, it’s likely the worker will be able to follow the steps after seeing it.

Consider the variations that occur in the same language.  Spanish is a perfect example.  The Spanish you would hear in Mexico is different from the Spanish you would hear in Ecuador or Spain.

Think beyond the text on training materials.  What will a worker do operating a machine when all the operating parts have English labels and directions?  You should create placards or diagrams for workers who need the translation.

It’s overwhelming to think about all the safety issues that could surface because of language barriers.  Realizing this is already a big step in the resolution process.  Transition step-by-step to make your training procedures more user-friendly for every language you employ.  Once you get a system down, you’ll see the safety benefits for your entire construction crew.