We Translate Words into Business
A Lesson on Liability: How Professional Translation Can Save The Day
by Terralíngua      Posted in  October 8, 2020

A Lesson on Liability: How Professional Translation Can Save The DayThe COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how we are all globally connected. Vital equipment has been flown into countries all over the world. We all want the best for our front-line health care workers.

In the business world, this highlights the importance of translation when distributing in another country. Liability and safety are the highest concern to ensure a product or machine is properly used.

Example: Germany 2006

This is a well-known medical case which stresses the importance of professional translation. A German hospital received a consignment of femoral components for knee replacements. The supplies came from America. German instructions were inside the packaging, but the labels on the outside were only in English.

The hospital didn’t think to use a professional translation service. Instead, they relied on English speaking hospital staff. They created new labels. Unfortunately, the translations were incorrect. The labels read ‘without cement.’ They should have read ‘with cement.’

The hospital carried out 47 knee replacement operations without using cement. Of course, the replacements failed. All the patients had to have another operation to rectify the mistake.

The patients sued the hospital for pain and suffering. The hospital sued the manufacturer of the supplies. The lawsuits amounted to millions of dollars. All because of a lack of professional translation for labels.

Non-English Speakers in the United States

Other sectors also need to provide clear instructions for their workers. For example, in America, many workers are Spanish speakers but only have information provided in English.

Construction, manufacturing, and farming all rely on employees who may not have English as a first language. A lack of comprehension puts the safety and wellbeing of the workers and companies at risk.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) website provides help and advice to business owners. Their website raises awareness of safety issues at work. It helps companies who want to put safety best practices in place.

The construction sector, for instance, employs around 2 million foreign workers. This amounts to approximately 23% of the workforce. Many of them are native Spanish speakers.

Five years ago, OHSA teamed up with The Center to Protect Workers Rights (CPWR). Together they created a 10-hour safety course in Spanish for construction workers. The course included handouts and class materials.

Their evaluation report included this quote from a wise 20 year old Hispanic worker. “I think that, in the future, training in one’s own language will be available and, when that day comes, many accidents and deaths will be prevented”.

How Translation Can Save A Company Money

Not only does information in one’s native language keep the workforce safe, there are many other benefits when investing in translation. Fewer accidents and fewer claims mean savings on lost wages and productivity. Fewer insurance claims could also result in less expensive policies.

Often businesses must learn the hard way the consequences of a free machine translation or the result from someone who is not a qualified translator. Unfortunately, that lesson can mean the loss of life or limb. It is a lesson we should all take to heart.


Terralingua is an ISO 9001, 17100 and 18587 certified translation leader. We care about the workforce and proudly present at the AEM Safety Conference. Please visit our website to request pricing or for more information about our services.

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