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The Language of Safety

The Language of Safety

The Language of SafetyAccording to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), more than 13,000 workers in the United States are injured at work every day. Many of these accidents could have been avoided if health and safety rules had been followed.

The object of the AEM is to help workers stay safe. That is why in June, which was National Safety month, they partnered with the National Safety Council. Their goal is to inform and educate workers and employers about safety risks and how to avoid them.

English as a second language

One of the largest groups of workers who suffer from injury on the job is in the construction sector. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the sector with an informative website about regulations and safety standards. Despite OSHA’s best efforts, there are still employers and staff who either choose to ignore the rules or have difficulty understanding instructions.

The OSHA website is available in English and Spanish. Two million workers in the US construction workforce are non-native English speakers, this corresponds to 23% of the workforce. Many of these workers are native Spanish speakers, but many speak other languages as well.

Lack of language skills is not the cause of all accidents, but it is a significant contributing factor. If workers do not understand written or spoken instructions, they are at a disadvantage and possibly at risk of suffering a life threatening injury.

Getting the message across

Though construction businesses employ non-English speaking staff, they not always think to provide translated materials, most importantly safety documents, to their staff in their native tongue.

A good example is The Fall Prevention Campaign on the OSHA website. It outlines the actions workers need to take to reduce the risks involved in working from heights. This includes creating a plan with a risk assessment of the area and a list of the correct tools and equipment to be used. These plans and lists should be available in the workplace and understandable for all users. They usually are available in English only, which begs the question – will all workers understand the risks?

Unless a company ensures materials are available in other languages, some workers may not understand the warnings or instructions. A plan prepared in both English and Spanish, for example, helps more workers to understand essential information and apply proper working procedures.

Instructions often do not require a lot of text to ensure comprehension. Look at the infographic on the AEM website. It is a clear poster giving workers information about equipment safety. Small icons with very brief user explanations make them clear, easy to read and simple to translate.

The importance of translation

Translated materials are of the utmost importance when workers are handling dangerous equipment. Most heavy machinery users are required to read the official instruction manual before machinery use.

If the manual has been translated into their native tongue, then they will easily understand the required safety precautions before using the equipment. They will also be fully aware of the risks involved. Offering important documents in another language is priceless, as it might save a life.

Addressing this one change is one of the most crucial decisions a company will make. Knowing essential information is available to protect lives as well as your company’s reputation will mean great peace of mind. Nothing is more important than safety, and nothing has a greater price if not considered.


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