A productive and safe workplace hinges on the quality of communication between management and workers. Language and cultural barriers that emerge in a bilingual workforce can contribute to miscommunication and on-the-job accidents and injuries. Because employees that do not speak English generally hesitate to ask for help when they do not understand, every employer with a bilingual workforce must take steps to bridge cultural gaps and ensure proper communication.

A Good Beginning

Orientation should be offered in the worker’s native language, if possible. Bilingual trainers in human resources or senior positions can serve a dual role, acting as translators at orientation, workplace presentations and safety meetings throughout the year.

Signage They Understand

To promote worker safety, you should post signage and communication materials in the language in which your employees are fluent. For Spanish language compliance assistance, OSHA offers a variety of free, health and safety materials at:

In addition to printed safety materials, provide information about wages, medical insurance and employee policies. It is beneficial to first evaluate employees’ level of education, job duties and common injuries, as well as culture and background, and then adapt your safety programs and communications materials accordingly.

The Translation Option

Consider professional translation of your materials. If you have Spanish speaking employees, ensure the materials are translated into the most prominent dialect, and ask a native speaker to review the material for accuracy before distributing companywide. The standard translation fee ranges from $10 to $20 per page, but it is well worth the expense when weighed against the risk of workplace accidents due to poor communication or understanding.

Language Education

To develop and retain skilled workers, you may want to consider offering on-site language classes to help your workers build communication skills. Offering learning opportunities at the workplace is convenient for the worker and encourages learning through the team setting.

Safety Standards

On the safety front, keep in mind that new immigrants may not understand the importance of following U.S. safety standards. If a machine breaks on an employee’s shift, he or she may worry that his or her job is on the line and try to fix it or make do. Make sure new employees understand that broken machinery in the workplace is taken very seriously to ensure everyone’s safety. Workers should understand that properly reporting problems is a behavior to be rewarded, and will not cost them a job.

Stay in Touch

Plan to make regular, frequent visits with your bilingual employees, making sure to touch on safety issues in the workplace, and encouraging them to ask about any doubts or issues they may be encountering on the job. To create a welcoming environment for all employees, work to develop a company culture that promotes and supports diversity as a core value of the organization.

Contact Us

For information about protecting your company against liability exposures, contact the experts at Tanner, Ballew and Maloof, Inc. at 404-252-8860.