Safety is a Common Language
Our workforce includes diverse nationalities, ethnicities, and languages. This diversity ensures that a broad range of skills are brought to the workplace; it can also cause challenges, increased injuries, and fatalities when workers speak different languages. There are effective strategies to ensure that safety is the common language in the workplace.
Workers may be afraid they will lose their jobs if they report hazards, injuries, or question authority and the unsafe acts of others. If they are undocumented they may fear retaliation or deportation. Different cultures and viewpoints also affect how workers receive safety messages and training. Try these options to encourage workers to participate in your safety program:
- Emphasize safety leadership and communication, including managerial commitment to workplace safety.
- Educate workers about their rights and the fact that they cannot be retaliated against for reporting safety hazards.
- Involve workers in the process of developing safety policy and training programs to ensure their needs are met.
- Choose supervisors or trainers familiar with each culture and language to customize the messages and delivery so they are properly received.
Employers are required to train employees on the tasks and hazards in the workplace. They must also ensure employees understand safety training because what they see and do fully reinforces that training. Follow these best practices for effective training of all adults in the workplace:
- Provide safety training and materials in the appropriate language(s).
- Use frequent and focused training, versus longer training sessions with multiple topics.
- Use hands-on exercises and skill drills.
- Use videos and pictures to teach, versus lecture and written materials.
- Train in small groups with similar spoken languages to make employees more comfortable.
- Provide one-on-one training sessions to demonstrate safety requirements and ensure employees understand these requirements.
Do not send workers to do a job until they prove they have mastered the necessary skills and understand the required safe work practices. Use these techniques to judge the effectiveness of your training:
- Watch your workers—eyes and body language can tell you if employees are confident in their training or skills. Offer more training and practice when needed.
- Have employees demonstrate complex job tasks to ensure they understand the correct procedures.
- Provide safety resources, such as safety data sheets, policies, and standard operating procedures in multiple languages.
- Post hazard symbols and safety signs on hazardous equipment and work areas. Symbols effectively convey essential hazards and warnings to everyone in the workplace. Use them to emphasize training programs, and safe work practices.
Proactive safety efforts such as fitness programs, warm-up exercises, and ergonomic evaluations are examples of positive ways to reduce injury rates. Supervisor and employee language skills can be a proactive investment in workplace if you:
- Provide English lessons to improve the understanding of written policies and work procedures.
- Select supervisors with second language skills who can build a rapport with workers and gain commonly used "key" safety phrases.
All workers bring different viewpoints, culture, language, and skills to the workplace. Planning ahead, customized training, and programs specific to employee needs can universally translate to a safer workplace.