When is a language barrier a safety risk?

At Masula we work with our clients to define and deliver effective health and safety strategies and documentation. Recently we have been encountering companies with workforces predominantly made up of workers who have English as a second, or third language. This has led us to think about how we can help our clients improve WHS communications with their teams, particularly when there are language barriers.

This is important to consider as businesses, and their officers, have a duty to ensure the provision of information, training, instruction and supervision to protect workers from risks to their health and safety. As part of this obligation, they must ensure that workers understand the information that is being conveyed to them. ISO AS/NZS 45001 goes one step further and requires organisations to identify barriers to communication and implement strategies to address these.

In workplaces with linguistically diverse workforces, language barriers may impact your ability to communicate WHS requirements to your employees. Limited English can also lead to misunderstandings and accidents when workers don’t understand the safe work practices they need to follow.

In the last few years, there have been cases where a language barrier has posed serious risk or injury, resulting in either a fine or an enforceable undertaking being imposed on the business. Looking at the case studies to the right, there are many examples of where language barriers were considered significant enough for expensive enforceable undertakings or PCBU fines.

What can you do?

It is important to understand if language barriers exist in your workplace and what risks they pose. We recommend that a risk management process is applied to help you to break down how and when corrective actions need to be applied. Where language barriers exist, you may wish to consider taking some or all of the following steps:

  • Firstly identify the languages spoken by your workforce
  • Look at ways to bridge gaps in understanding by identifying bilingual workers who may be able to assist or providing an interpreter e.g., at safety meetings
  • Translate key documents
  • Consider having key safety terms or signage in dual languages to increase understanding of common English safety terms
  • Use alternative methods of communication e.g., images and diagrams in documentation and signage e.g., universal exit signs.

Our survey

To help our customers better communicate their health and safety strategies and messages with their workforce, Masula are running a survey to see which of our products would be most valuable in languages other than English as well as collating what languages would be most prominent and useful to our community.

Please help us by completing the survey, we look forward to sharing our findings with you.

Are language barriers a risk to WHS in your workplace?

For more information on work health and safety for your business, or to book a Complimentary Consultation, get in touch with the team from Masula Compliance on 07 3348 3666 or email info@masulacompliance.com.au