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No Comprendo: OSHA Issues Memorandum to Protect Non-English Speaking Workers
OSHA clarifies safety training rules for non-English speaking workers, placing burden on the employer to ensure that instruction doesn’t get lost in translation.
By DeAnna Stephens Baker
Date Posted: 8/1/2010
Does your company employ any non-English speaking workers? If so, changes may need to be made to your safety training practices.
A memorandum issued earlier this year by Dr. David Michaels of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) clarifies federal policy regarding employee training for Latino and other non-English speaking workers. Designed to protect employees from various workplace hazards, OSHA rules require that employee training be conducted in a manner that employees can understand.
“This directive conforms with Secretary Solis’ clear and urgent goal of reducing injuries and illnesses among Latino and other vulnerable workers,” said Michaels. “These workers represent an integral and essential part of the key industries that keep our country running every day.”
The practical application of this memorandum is that companies that hire non-English speaking workers must provide safety training in a language the workers understand. However, supplying the information is not the end of an employer’s responsibility. OSHA’s training provisions also require that the employer verify that workers comprehend the information and have actually acquired the knowledge and skills which they have been trained in.
Employers are expected to realize that if they usually need to communicate work instructions to employees at a certain vocabulary level or in language other than English, they will also need to provide safety and health training to employees in the same way. Future OSHA inspections will include checks that proper training is being provided. Part of the enforcement guidance included in the memorandum directed investigators required to check and verify that OSHA required training is provided in a language and vocabulary that the workers understand.
There is help available for companies trying to meet this requirement. OSHA provides compliance assistance resources online at www.osha.gov directed specifically toward employers with Spanish speaking workers. The Compliance Assistance Quick Start tool can help employers find the Spanish-language resources available on OSHA’s website. Resources include Spanish print publications such as fact sheets, safety and health information bulletins, and posters that can be downloaded and printed for distribution. Other resources include OSHA Safety and Health Topics pages translated into Spanish and Spanish safety videos on subjects such as hearing, eye and head protection.
Remember, that having the information around employees is not the same as providing training. If employees are not literate, telling them to read training materials will not satisfy the employer’s training obligation. For companies with a high percentage of non-English speaking workers, using a translator or bilingual trainer may be the best option. However a company chooses to meet this requirement, the most important thing to remember is that OSHA places the responsibility on the employer to ensure that all workers not only hear, but also understand, all required safety training.