Foreign-born workers… have some of the highest worker fatality rates of any population. Census data estimates show that a large number of foreign-born individuals have limited English proficiency (LEP) and limited education, inhibiting their ability to understand safety and health training and other rights on the job.”
Create a Safety-centric Workplace with Multilingual Communication
Safety Begins with Communication
It has long been recognized that some of the most grueling and dangerous jobs within the United States are performed by new immigrants — and often by immigrants with limited-English proficiency (LEP). In fact, “Latino immigrants to the U.S. have a workplace fatality rate of 5.9 per 100,000 person-years, which is almost 50% higher than the rate for all workers (4.0) and even greater when compared to Latino workers born in the U.S.”1 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “[i]n 2015, 903 Latino workers died on the job, the highest number since 2007… The Latino fatality rate was 18% higher than the national average, and 67% of Latino deaths were among immigrant workers.”2 In addition to language barriers, there also exist cultural differences that increase the risk of workplace accidents and fatalities.
According to the Brookings Institute, nearly 10 percent of working-age U.S. adults are limited-English proficient (LEP). While Brookings found that two-thirds of this LEP population are Spanish speaking, “speakers of Asian and Pacific Island languages are most likely to be LEP”3 And, as Brookings points out, “[g]iven the large numbers of LEP workers in the United States and the fact that virtually all of the growth in the U.S. labor force over the next four decades is projected to come from immigrants and their children, it is in our collective interest to tackle this challenge head on.”ibid
Language Barriers Increase Safety Risks
When a non-English speaking worker doesn’t understand the safety training materials or cannot effectively communicate with coworkers, the organization can face not only lower productivity rates but also higher incident rates that can lead to all types of injuries, including death.”4
In 2011,150 employees at a major food processing facility were admitted to the hospital, and five of those employees underwent intensive care. Why? A worker with limited-English proficiency misunderstood the English language instructions on a drum of industrial bleach and mistakenly mixed a batch of lethal chlorine gas. After a thorough investigation by CDC investigators, it was believed that English-only labels and signage combined with widespread English-language illiteracy among employees led to the nearly fatal incident.A Lack of Language Support in the Food Processing Industry
The Need for Multilingual Communication in Agriculture, Landcaping, and Nursing
The workforce in all areas of United States agriculture and forestry is becoming increasingly diverse in language, culture, and education. Many agricultural workers are immigrants who have limited English language skills and limited educational attainment. Providing safety and health training to this large, diverse, dispersed, and often transient population of workers is challenging.” 5
Safety protocols for the agricultural industry have always been essential. In fact, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “[a]griculture ranks among the most hazardous industries.6 Not only do workers require appropriate training in order to safely operate farm machinery and work with farm animals, but now, in light of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), safety protocols have become even more critical. Workers and farm management need to be well versed in appropriate hand hygiene practices. They need to responsibly use personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as facial and respiratory protective equipment while working on the farm.
According to the Pew Research Center, some of the top industries that employ immigrants outside of agriculture (including landscaping and horticulture) and carry their fair amount of workplace dangers include manufacturing, construction, and leather manufacturing among others.
Data Source: Pew Research Center
No matter the industry, however, when leaders invest in multilingual language solutions, they help to mitigate the risks of workplace injuries and help to secure a safe working environment for all. Construction, in particular, remains one of the most dangerous industries within the United States.
Lack of English Proficiency in Construction
Although construction work is far safer today than it was in the past, it remains one of the most dangerous professions. In fact, in 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 937construction-worker deaths, marking the “most fatalities of any industry sector — almost three times worse than in manufacturing.”7 According to the American occupational safety and health magazine, EHS Today, an average of two construction workers die each day of work-related injuries in the United States. A lack of English proficiency is likely a significant contributing factor since there are nearly twice as many LEP construction workers than English-speaking workers.
Data Source: Migration Policy Institute
These linguistic and cultural barriers must be addressed in an efficient and responsible manner in an effort to mitigate avoidable — possibly fatal — workplace accidents.
Ensuring employees are given clear instructions in a language they understand is not only ethically responsible but it’s the law. In fact, mandates for effective multilingual communication are explicitly expressed in many standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Some of these standards require “training” or “instruction” to be offered “in a manner” or “in a language” that is understandable to employees.”8
Read OSHA’s full memo on an employer’s obligation to provide training to non-English-speaking employees.
Strengthen Safety in Your Workplace with Proven Language Solutions
From employee handbooks and safety protocols to safety data sheets (msds) and training materials, effective communication in a language your employees understand can literally save lives. If part of your workforce consists of employees with limited English proficiency, investing in companies that offer multilingual language solutions is definitely a step in the right direction.
When employees fully understand their company’s safety policies and procedures, they are much more equipped to take preventative measures, keeping themselves and their coworkers out of harm’s way. By investing in effective multilingual solutions, employers significantly reduce the risk of workplace accidents and help companies build a stronger, more capable workforce. It all starts with comprehensive language solutions that bridge the linguistic and cultural gap.
Our team of INSIDERS works closely everyday with our clients, just like you, providing customized, professional language solutions.These same solutions can be adapted to work with your associates, providing an immediate improvement to reducing communication barriers you experience. Our team has years of experience translating and localizing workplace safety documentation, eLearning material, and training manuals. Many of our clients take safety even one step further, investing in Vocalink Global’s live interpreters who are accessible by phone, video, or on-site. Our interpreters are a wonderful resource, supporting your live workplace training sessions.
Our goal is to become an INSIDER to you and your employees, ensuring everyone is heard and understood. Connect with us today to help build a stronger, safer workforce for all.
1 Flynn, Michael A. “Safety & the Diverse Workforce: Lessons From NIOSH’s Work With Latino Immigrants.” Professional Safety, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4641045/.
2 “Ensuring Language Justice in Occupational Safety and Health Training.” AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION, www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2018/01/18/ensuring-language-justice.
3 Wilson, Jill H. “Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas.” Brookings, Brookings, 24 Aug. 2016, www.brookings.edu/research/investing-in-english-skills-the-limited-english-proficient-workforce-in-u-s-metropolitan-areas/.
4 “The Impact of Language Barriers on Workplace Safety.” WorkersCompensation.com, www.workerscompensation.com/news_read.php?id=35239.
5 Arcury, Thomas A, et al. “Overcoming Language and Literacy Barriers in Safety and Health Training of Agricultural Workers.” Journal of Agromedicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2914347/.
6 “Farm Safety Survey (FSS).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Apr. 2018, www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/aginjury/fss/default.html#:~:text=Agriculture%20ranks%20among%20the%20most,use%20and%20prolonged%20sun%20exposure.
7 Musick, Tom. “As Construction Work Increases, so Do Dangers.” Safety+Health Magazine, Safety+Health Magazine, 28 Dec. 2020, www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/15438-as-construction-work-increases-so-do-dangers.
8 OSHA Training Standards Policy Statement, www.osha.gov/dep/standards-policy-statement-memo-04-28-10.html.
In addition to:
“Ensuring Language Justice in Occupational Safety and Health Training.” AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION, www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2018/01/18/ensuring-language-justice.
Wilson, Jill H. “Investing in English Skills: The Limited English Proficient Workforce in U.S. Metropolitan Areas.” Brookings, Brookings, 24 Aug. 2016, www.brookings.edu/research/investing-in-english-skills-the-limited-english-proficient-workforce-in-u-s-metropolitan-areas/.
“Working Age Population: Aged 15-64: All Persons for the United States.” FRED, 21 Jan. 2021, fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LFWA64TTUSM647S.
Hensley, Scott. “How Miscommunication And A Simple Mistake Led To A Toxic Accident.” NPR, NPR, 7 Dec. 2012, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/12/06/166658038/how-miscommunication-and-a-simple-mistake-led-to-a-toxic-accident.
“Department of Labor Logo UNITED STATESDEPARTMENT OF LABOR.” Landscape and Horticultural Services – Overview | Occupational Safety and Health Administration, www.osha.gov/landscaping.