Do your non-English speaking workers understand their safety training? The workforce is becoming more diversified, putting increased emphasis on issues regarding language and literacy when addressing safety in the workplace. OSHA requires that all employers offer safety training in a language that all employees can understand.  This includes temporary or contract workers.  Workers who don’t speak English, or have limited proficiency, may not be able to communicate effectively with English speaking supervisors or co-workers. Some employees may not read English proficiently and also may not even be able to read in their first language. There are also cultural differences to consider when addressing safety: the meaning of certain colors and symbols may differ by culture, many cultures consider it rude to question authority or ask questions, safety in their home country may have been non-existent or had very little emphasis placed on it. Taking all these factors into account is very important in creating a good safety training program.

When training employees with limited English skills take these special steps to make sure the training is effective:

  1. Speak slowly, explain and repeat important points.
  2. Choose the simplest words and avoid technical expressions where possible.
  3. Use a fluent translator or translation service for those employees with minimal or limited English skills.
  4. Use visual aids, such as pictures, and props, to supplement your words. Post up to date safety signs that feature images that are easily understood by all.
  5. Encourage participation. Help employees express their thoughts and questions about the topic.
  6. Make training as hands on as possible. Have employees demonstrate new skills during the training session so you can verify they understood.
  7. Be sure to get feedback to confirm comprehension, and allow extra time for questions.
  8. If they are literate, give the trainees handouts in the language or languages they can understand.
  9. Follow up on the job to make sure there have been no misunderstandings and that the employee correctly apply what they’ve learned.