Misinterpretation is a major problem in the workplace, the Society for Human Resource Management reported. Language barriers contribute to an estimated 25 percent of worker injuries, according to OSHA data cited by the organization. Employees must be able to interpret audible and visual hazard warnings and training materials to navigate the workplace safely. However, this task can prove difficult for those who are not native English speakers. In the end, these workers clock in with inadequate workplace safety knowledge and many are injured as a result.
Latino workers bear the brunt
Latino employees have been at the center of a large number of language-related onsite incidents in recent years, according to the National Safety Council. Fatalities involving these workers have increased exponentially and are expected to continue on this course for the foreseeable future. According to the NSC, Latinos will constitute more than one-third of all workplace deaths by 2050 – a direct result of the lack of Spanish-language training materials.
This trend comports with Census data on language use in the U.S., as Spanish speakers account for more than 62 percent of the 60 million citizens or permanent residents for whom English is a secondary dialect.
The search for a solution
OSHA does not have the authority to require employers to support non-English-speaking employees, according to SHRM. However, the agency does derive some power from its general regulations regarding workplace training, which state that firms must provide instruction that their workers can “understand.” Additionally, if an employer does offer training designed for those who do not speak English, then it must also provide hazard notifications that match this instruction.
But besides placating employees with unique language needs, why should enterprises invest in such programs? The answer is simple: safety.
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