The Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. is growing and will soon to be the largest minority group in the country. This also means that a large and growing part of our workforce includes those who speak English as a second language. However, in addition to Spanish there are many other languages many non-English speakers hold as their first language as well. The use of many different languages can create many problems, especially in regards to understanding safety procedures and training, and this is something that more and more companies are addressing. In fact, OSHA cites that nearly 25 percent of work-related injuries occur due to communication breakdowns that came about as a result of a language barrier. So lets discuss why you should be a proactive company, and why you should care about making accommodations for these workers.
It’s Reasonable and Prudent
While the OSHA does not require the offering of safety trainings in languages other than English, it does require that all employees be properly trained in all safety protocols related to their occupation and workplace. It’s hard for an employee to be “properly trained” if he or she can’t easily comprehend what’s being taught. Even if an employee can hold a conversation or get messages across when speaking English with management or co-workers, the translation process that takes place in the brain can make truly understanding items learned in written text quite difficult. While it may be inconvenient at first, it is worth it to invest in providing resources in multiple languages (many safety and warning labels come in English, Spanish, and combined versions, now).
It May Reduce Turnover
In industries where there are many workers with English as a second language, including many production sectors, employee turnover rates are massive compared to others in which English speakers are almost exclusively employed. Language barriers make communication difficult and incidents more likely. This can lead to having to terminate employees more often or having employees quit due to dissatisfaction with the work or the job environment. The problem for you is that when you have to constantly bring on and retrain new employees you are not only losing production time as people learn the ropes but you’re also dumping costs into training new people for what others already know. What’s worse is that if this is in an industry where you’re experiencing employee turnover, you may be wasting money on training someone new and he or she may actually have the same problem understanding the training that your old employee did. It makes more sense to take that money and use it to reproduce your training materials in multiple languages on the front end so that things can go easier right from the start. This not only makes sense from a business standpoint, but it better protects your employees and their coworkers as well if everyone is well-trained.
Sensitivity Does Matter
In many blue-collar industries sensitivity to differing cultures, customs, and values doesn’t always run high. One way to help cultivate more of an understanding is to make multilingual safety training simply the norm within not only your company but, as much as you can, within your industry. If it can be seen by others as an important component to the growing of your business, and not just a nuisance, then it becomes a natural part of employee thinking and can help erase language barrier tensions within the workplace.
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In the end, there are too many good reasons to start becoming aware of the reality of our workforce and be proactive about accommodating it. In the end, it will likely become a common place for training materials to be easily offered (perhaps through software) in any language an employee needs, and the language barriers of a global market and a mixed-language workforce will be virtually non-existent. It’s better to be ahead of the curve now than to fight it later.