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Do You Speak the Language of Safety?

Original article from https://safetydailyadvisor.blr.com

by Chris Kilbourne

Are you doing all you can to prevent language-related accidents? Learn more about breaking down hazardous language barriers in your workplace.

In June 2011, an employee of an Arkansas poultry plant accidentally released toxic chlorine gas into the facility. As a result, 600 workers were evacuated and more than 150 were hospitalized.

The worker had mixed sodium hypochlorite (bleach) with an acidic solution. Though he knew that such a mixture was dangerous, the worker did not recognize the drum and could not read the label. It was printed in English, but he could read only in Spanish.

A Growing Concern

According to NIOSH, “The potential for injury as a result of inadequate attention to foreign language health and safety training extends beyond [one] industry, with approximately 40.4 million foreign-born residents in the United States, 46.6 percent of whom are Hispanic and 51 percent who report an inability to speak English very well.”

In addition, an estimated 30 million adults with less than basic literacy skills are often working in dangerous jobs.

Overcoming Language Barriers

Overcoming language and cultural barriers to workplace safety and health isn’t easy, but it isn’t rocket science either. According to a training publication by Oregon OSHA, the number one rule for dealing with language barriers is “demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate.”

Train by speaking, by showing, and by asking for volunteers to repeat the task you’ve demonstrated.

  • Show the task.
  • Demonstrate all steps, including safety steps.
  • Have workers repeat the task.
  • Observe trainees carefully.
  • Repeat the process until workers can do the task flawlessly.

Oregon OSHA also recommends training teams with three types of representatives:

  • A technical leader, who is the person with the best skills and knowledge
  • A language leader, who is the person with the best bilingual skills
  • A social leader, who is the person the training group trusts the most

A multicultural population provides the U.S. economy with hard-working, dedicated employees. Ensuring that they stay safe despite language limitations is not only your duty under the law, it is also a way to build a committed, loyal team that know you care about their protection.