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The Impact of Language on Job Safety

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Today’s workforce in the United States is more diverse than ever. And people are the most important asset of any company. For companies to succeed in the global marketplace, they must make the most of the full range of their people. Companies must attract and retain the right skills, the best minds, all the required resources – and that means diversity. But differences in language and culture can cause a communication gap that results in job safety issues.

When workers cannot communicate effectively to perform work duties, co-workers also can become impacted resulting in low morale, low production and profit and potentially increased accidents.

But making accommodations for those with Limited English Proficiency come at a cost.

When employers balk at the potential price tag of a program that might include bilingual training, translators and other strategies, they should be reminded of the costs of accidents and OSHA fines.

And nowhere in the regulations does it say that if your folks cannot understand the language, it’s still OK for them to be exposed to workplace hazards.

Job Safety Issues

Problems also arise in the course of OSHA inspections if employees are unable to describe working conditions, or if translators are not available to interpret.

These differences may prevent workers from reporting or questioning potential hazards, conditions or work practices present to their employer, supervisor or co-workers.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that language barriers contribute to 25 percent of all workplace injuries and loss of life, according to estimates from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

What’s Currently Being Done Nationally

OSHA has initiated alliances and public-sector outreach initiatives for Latino and Hispanic workers as well as other non-English speaking groups. Many OSHA publications and safety training materials are available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Creole, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.

OSHA Training Institute Education Centers also offer Spanish-language courses, both live and online. The USF OTI Education Center can deliver Spanish-language safety and health courses upon request.

Possible Solutions to Ensure a Safe Jobsite – What You Can Do

  • Offer hands-on training that requires demonstration of understanding – makes liberal use of visual aids to demonstrate hazards.
  • Conducts safety training in both English and the language of the native speakers, using translators.
  • Pairs a new, non-English-speaking worker with a seasoned employee. This helps the newcomer learn safety rules and language and promotes cultural understanding between the workers.
  • Having labels and material safety data sheets in a language that employees can understand. And, he reminds them that the fact that an employee appears to be able to speak English does not mean he or she can read and write it.
  • Offering ESL Classes (English as a Second Language) onsite at the company or let employees where to find within the community.