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Health and safety is a daily part of modern life and an ever increasing part our working lives. In the UK you have a wide range of standard documents such as method statements, risk assessments COSSH assessments, Health and Safety Manuals etc.

Often when you purchase machinery or a substance you will find it originated in another country made by people who speak a different language. But it will (or should) come with instructions for usage in the language of its destination country. Such technical manuals will no doubt have been translated into possibly many languages. This will have been completed with the assistance of a translation agency.

However, people now migrate between countries more then ever. We need only look at the migration in the EU. For example we have Polish people arriving into Britain and workers from the Ukraine now replacing them in Poland. People are on the move.

Businesses are using this migration of skill and or cheap labour. But often the migrant worker will speak limited amounts of the new language(when they arrive) and read / write it this new tongue even less. This causes potential health and safety issues if not considered and addressed. This is where language translations should be considered.

Under English law a person is deemed to have read something if they have signed it. But surely we enter a grey area if the person can obviously not read in the language?

This is a larger concern to directors and business owners as they now can be made personally responsible for such issues as ‘corporate manslaughter’.

We must also consider the growing ‘claims culture’. After an incident could your migrant worker, Motivated by a large pay-out, suddenly lose their ability to communicate in English? And how will you prove that they are reducing their language abilities? Incidences of similar abuse already occur with native workers do they not?

With these issues in mind, will your insurance company start to question your policies in regards language translation? The question must be when will this issue become serious enough for them to require action.

They only true way to avoid this is to consider language translation as part of the initial employment cost of migrant workers and as part of the health and safety audit. If you cannot be sure that your employee can read documents related to the health and safety parts of their job you will need to have a translation available in their language.

Likewise, if they are to be given any interactive training, interpreting will be required if language levels are not high enough. For the larger business it might be possible to give additional health and safety training to a member of staff who can speak in these other languages and ensure they both receive the translations and understand any training given. They can then assist or manage the training of these new staff.

As stated at the beginning on this article, equipment manuals are often translated into many languages. On this basis you may be able to obtain copies of manuals with translations into the languages of your migrant team. These translations should be a consideration on future pre-purchase discussions.

Some readers may be dismissing the above statements. If that is the case, visit the HSE’s (Health & Safety Executive) website and you will see that they already show translations of various documents into 28 languages!