When it comes to safety, make sure you speak the same language!

February 7th, 2005 by

Many employers have workers who are not proficient in English. They may be recent immigrants, or they may have lived in non-English speaking enclaves here in America for many years. So how can you ensure that these workers understand your safety procedures? How confident are you that they can follow your lockout/tagout procedures, or bloodborne pathogen exposures, or fall protection?
Fortunately, the world of the internet provides a wealth of resources. In what might appear to be an unlikely resource, the workers compensation fund in Utah offers a deep and well contructed library in safety materials, most of which are available in Spanish. If you have Hispanic workers who are limited English speaking, these materials could be very valuable. A quick search of the internet will provide resources in other languages as well.
One note of caution. Many immigrants are illiterate in their native language. In many countries, elementary education is considered optional and is often pre-empted by the need for children to go to work. It does no good to provide a Spanish language “hand tool safety” program to an Hispanic worker who cannot read it. And I know from my background in adult literacy programs that many adults will try to hide the fact of their illiteracy. This is a sensitive area, where a mistep by management could lead to grievances and even lawsuits.
So approach your workers with respect and care. Even if they are unable to read, they may be able to use the materials in conjunction with a family member or friend who is literate. The bottom line is relatively simple. You need to protect all of your workers by providing training and access to effective safety materials. You must take steps to ensure that your safety procedures are understood by each and every worker — and this means providing materials that they can readily understand.