Overcoming language barriers for health and safety

Overcoming language barriers for health and safety Safety Forward

Working with people from other countries and those that are not fluent with the English language can present a challenge when it comes to communication, and miscommunications are more common when a larger subset of workers are not working in their native language. When it comes to policies and procedures, overcoming language barriers for health and safety is  imperative to ensure a safe working environment for all.

Without proper action on the part of management, language and literacy barriers can make it difficult or impossible for some employees to function effectively and safely in the workplace. These barriers can also make interaction and teamwork among workers more difficult and less efficient also.


The cultural barriers experienced by non-English speaking employees and the implications this could have on your health and safety policy, needs to be addressed in various ways with training being at the forefront. Failure to adequately train non-English-speaking employees about safety issues could not only result in lower productivity or more errors but it could also result in injury or death. Language training is important and can deal with most of the problems posed by a multilingual workplace, and the workplace will thrive when employees are trained on the basic aspects of their host country’s language.

Translate written material

Hiring a professional translator can help clear up mistakes and miscommunication and should always be used to translate the most important documents in the office like company safety policies, benefits details or new rules you’re enforcing. Employers should consider translating their training materials into multiple languages so non-English speaking employees can easily decipher job-related safety practices and  providing written documents and signage for employees is often a great supplement to a training program.

Educate staff on cultural differences

Overcoming language barriers for health and safety often starts with educating employees. Being aware of the common differences between cultures increases trust, improves work relationships and streamlines projects and can also improve communication. When employees are interested in each other and want to learn about cultural similarities and differences, and treat one another’s differences with respect, the positive effect on engagement is unrivalled.

Visual communication

Words and audio alone can often time fail us in the work place. Sometimes even information gets lost from one native speaker to another, but using infographics, photographs, and diagrams can help people understand what you are trying to say.

For further information on overcoming language barriers for health and safety or any other health and safety requirement, please contact us here.

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