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How do you make sure non-English speakers understand safety training?

Periodically, we ask safety pros how they’d handle a difficult situation at work. Today’s issue: An injury has a safety manager wondering whether non-English speaking employees understand the translations being provided for safety training.

Manager Mike Kelly was on his daily walk-through when someone called to him. It was Alberto, a newer employee who was learning English, but wasn’t yet fluent.

Alberto pointed to his hard hat, and then gave the thumbs up sign.

Mike made a point of stopping by to see Eduardo, who was translating safety information for Alberto.

“Thanks for translating the safety training,” Mike said to Eduardo. “My two years of high-school Spanish might get me through a simple conversation, but I’d have no idea about the words for things like lockout and tagout.”

“I remember what it was like to learn English as an adult,” Eduardo said. “It’s tough. And just when you think you’re doing well, you hear an English word that you don’t know.”

Mike thought he had the safety training in Spanish situation handled well. That was until the day when Eduardo and Alberto entered his office. Alberto had an ice pack on his head. An object had fallen and hit him. He hadn’t been wearing a hard hat.

Alberto got medical attention. He was OK – just a bump on the head.

Did he really get it?

Eduardo told Mike that Alberto said he didn’t know hard hats were required in that part of the building.

“I thought you said he understood that training,” Mike said.

“He told me he did,” Eduardo said. “I guess he really didn’t.”

Mike realized he’d been depending on Eduardo to make sure that Alberto understood safety training.

How can managers like Mike be more confident non-English speakers understand safety training?

Let us know what you’d do in this situation. You can share it in the comments box below.

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  1. The last company I worked for was about 98% hispanic at our job site. The client required that all our employees be proficient in English. Some people were more proficient than others. We always did all our safety training and meetings in English. Whenever there was something important that we wanted to make sure everyone understood, I would have the General Foreman repeat it in Spanish, then question the employees to make sure there was no misunderstanding.

  2. The first step should be to validate that the trainer is fluent in Spanish, and that he/she has the appropriate vocabulary for the task. Second, test the trainee to verify comprehension; consistent low scores will identify a weak curriculum or a ineffective trainer.

    • You could not be more wrong! The first step is knowing you are working in a country that speaks English. Next, learn the language (English( so you understand the laws, rules and regulations. Most of the US safety labels and so fourth are in English, so learn it! End of story

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