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Date PostedOctober 31, 2012

Crossing the Language Barrier on Construction Sites

Importance of good communication

The importance of good communication cannot be stressed enough in the dangerous and hazard fraught environment of a construction site. If workers are not able to communicate with each and with their employers, there could be serious repercussions. Other than the obvious, that it may hamper productivity, it can also have a negative effect on site safety.

All workers including those whose first language is not English, need information and training to understand the risks involved in their work and to enable them to do the job safely, even more so when the job involves life threatening circumstances such as those presented by construction work.

There are a variety of workplaces and sites across Oz, where workers speak languages other than English as their first language. Even workers who have a slight knowledge and understanding of English may not have a level of understanding high enough to understand the safety regulations and procedures of the site. It’s important for employers to be aware of the language preferences of their workforce so they can make sure that health and safety is discussed in ways that everyone understands.

In workplaces where there are a variety of languages spoken, language differences can be a noticeable barrier to the successful communication of important information relating to health and safety information. This includes the need to discuss issues and ensure that safe work procedures are being practiced.

Those workers that come from culturally diverse backgrounds may also have different attitudes towards health and safety because of their previous work environments and its impact on their attitudes and beliefs.

Employers should tailor communication to the needs of their employees in order for all workers to understand the hazards and risks presented on their site. This is vital to protecting their health and safety and ensuring they behave in a manner that protects the health and safety of their co-workers. Employers should ensure instruction is given to workers in a language that they fully comprehend especially with regard to safety procedures.

It is the duty of employers to ensure workers are informed about the company’s health and safety policy and procedures, hazards  on the site, safe work processes, procedures safe operation, use, maintenance or replacement of protective equipment,  injury and incident reporting procedures,  consultation structures (such as health and safety representatives, designated work groups, management contacts and meeting schedules), procedures for resolving health and safety issues, emergency and first aid procedures as well as warning signs and symbols.

One of the best methods to employ in ensuring good communication is a face-to-face discussion and demonstration. This method is effective in communicating across different languages and also allows for feedback, interaction and for misunderstandings to be identified and addressed immediately.

Written material in their language of choice is also effective and should be clear, concise, in simple language and have pictures and visual aids to accompany written material to make understanding easier.

Employers or supervisors also need to figure out whether translation or interpreting is needed or whether there are bilingual employees that may be able to help.

Employers also need to ensure consistent safety signs are used and that employees are taught terms that are common to the workplace, such as the names of equipment and processes, relevant job titles and key safety instructions. By ensuring that all workers understand what is expected of them in terms of health and safety compliance, they safer the workplace will be.


Peter Cutforth is a Director at Urban E-Learning, a global elearning and web strategy firm based in George St Brisbane. Peter's interests extend to training, safety and compliance, online marketing, and Mobile Apps.

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