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The Language of Safety: Part 2

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

by Chris Kilbourne

Yesterday, we began a discussion about overcoming language barriers to workplace safety and protecting non-English-speaking workers. Today, we conclude with more information and more suggestions.

Rixio Medina is president of the Board of Certified Safety Professionals and serves on OSHA’s National Advisory Committee on Safety and Health. He is concerned that following a period of decline, the number of fatalities among non-English-speaking employees is on the rise again. According to Medina, nearly 20 percent of employees killed on the job in 2011 were foreign-born.

Medina believes that workplaces with non-English-speaking employees should establish a program that spells out their approach to bridging language gaps. The program should include training, supervision, and other steps such as these:

  • Get foreign-born employees involved as bilingual translators, safety committee members, and experts in hazard identification.
  • Have a bilingual employee accompany work groups of non-English-speaking employees so that they do not miss important safety communications.
  • Ask affected employees how you can best meet their communication needs.
  • Take steps to make sure non-English-speaking workers are not excluded from job safety analysis, toolbox talks, etc.
  • Encourage supervisors and other workers to practice tolerance and acceptance and to be good listeners.
  • Make sure safety policies and practices are extended to non-English-speaking employees of independent contractors working at your site.
  • Engage employees through family and faith connections. Communicate safety messages at social and community events where foreign-born workers feel comfortable.
  • Seek out resources from industry groups, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, ASSE, and other workplace safety and health organizations.

Why So Many Injuries?

Why are injury and fatality rates for foreign workers so high? Jill Bishop of Multilingual Connections, a Chicago language training and translation firm, offers the following possible explanations:

  • Immigrants, especially Latinos, work in high-risk jobs such as construction at a higher rate than the general population.
  • Approximately 65 percent of low-wage immigrant workers have limited English proficiency.
  • Safety is viewed though a different lens. In their home countries, there may be fewer government inspections and, if a violation occurs, a bribe may solve the problem.
  • For undocumented workers, a fear of deportation can be a motivation to quietly self-treat injuries that should be reported and treated by a medical professional.
  • Some foreign-born workers believe that safety regulations exist to protect American-born workers who are less “tough.”