Diversity in the workplace is a benefit as workers from various backgrounds can bring resourcefulness, perspective, and experience to their jobs, resulting in greater success and increased efficiency. It is important for employers who tap into diversity to be mindful that some employees many not use English as their primary language, resulting in the need to be flexible and creative when communicating safety programs with the workforce.
By Will Flower
George Bernard Shaw said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Managers and supervisors must communicate in a way that ensures all employees understand job assignments and safety messages. This is especially true when you have a diverse workforce that includes employees who may not use English as their primary language. Managers and safety professionals at hauling companies, recycling centers, transfer station and landfills have an obligation to evaluate their training programs to ensure messages that are being communicated are, in fact, being understood by all employees.
Customized Training Programs
At workplaces with diverse workforces, training may need to be delivered in English and in other languages that non-English speaking employees understand. In these cases, safety professionals and managers should customize training programs to make sure the training is understood by all members of the team. Some of the steps that can be taken to ensure safety messages are communicated and understood include:
1. Get back to the basics of communication, including:
• Speaking slowly and clearly
• Emphasizing important points
• Avoiding jargon, acronyms and technical expressions
• Asking for feedback to gauge if the employees comprehend the safety topic being discussed
2. Use Visual Aids—Use pictures, videos, and demonstrations as learning aids to communicate safety protocol. Safety signs in multiple languages will help ensure the messages are understood by all workers.
3. Use Available Resources—OSHA has web-based tools to help employers communicate with employees.
4. Translate—Use a translator who can help communicate safety messages in a language employees can understand. Oftentimes, an employee who is fluent in English and other languages can be called on to provide assistance. It is a good idea to review the safety information with the translator in advance to allow him or her to prepare for the training. Translating services are also available to convert written information into various languages.
5. English Classes—Some companies offer employees opportunities to attend classes to learn English as a Second Language (ESL).
6. Coach Employees—Supervisors, managers and safety professionals should review safety topics, especially while workers are in their work element.
Remember that just because some of your employees may face a language barrier, it does not mean they are any less hard-working or dedicated. General Managers and safety managers have aresponsibility to make certain that all employees feel safe at work. This means accommodating workers who do not understand English well. When companies do not take the extra time to communicate effectively with these workers, they risk putting these employees in danger that could lead to accidents and injuries. Importantly, courts have long supported OSHA’s view that an employer may not take advantage of “an adequately
communicated work rule” when the company did not communicate work rules to a non-English speaking employee in a language that employee could understand. The bottom line is that
communicating safety training in a manner that is understood by all employees according to their language will promote a safe workplace. | WA
Will Flower is the Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems. Will has 37 years of experience in the field of solid waste management and environmental protection. He has held operational and executive leadership positions at the Director’s Office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Waste Management, Inc., Republic Services. Inc. and Green Stream Recycling.
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