Harper College

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How to develop a culture of workplace safety, awareness and prevention that is effective for culturally diverse workers.

Data and statistics on workplace injuries are gathered and reviewed annually for many reasons. One of the main reasons this data is so important is because the information shows what types of injuries are most frequent. While the data helps to direct attention to the most frequent types of injuries and potential causes for these incidents, there are also data points on injury rates among different ethnicities/cultures that are important for employers to review, so they know where to place their attention when it comes to prevention strategies.

Injury rates for individuals for whom English is their second language are higher than for native English speakers. It is reasonable to assume that a language barrier is an obstacle to understanding typical safety messages and instructions. For effective prevention strategies to be developed, not only does the issue of English literacy levels need to be considered, but the matter of culture also needs to be considered.

Workplace safety is a major priority for all employers and employees as each workday begins. Safety, awareness and prevention are discussed and considered throughout each work activity that staff begins. Whether through pre-work checklists or pre-established procedures, the processes for performing and completing a task are typically approached with a mindset that includes steps to avoid actions that could lead to an injury. Unfortunately, this is only sometimes the case. No matter what industry or the type of task at hand, the possibility of something going wrong or a process not being followed is possible. In these instances, an injury or accident can happen. 

A common approach by employers is to promote a culture of safety within the company to protect employees from injury and keep workplace safety top of mind. Step back for a moment and pretend that you are a visitor at your place of work, and list all the ways your company promotes this culture. Is it a safety poster or checklist? Is it a picture of an employee who won a monthly safety award? Could it be an active safety meeting that happens every morning at the same time? How much time is devoted to safety training? What stands out to you? Finally, how serious are employees about safety? Employees' commitment to safety can typically be observed when crews work together. 

How would an organization promote this type of mindset? 

  • Training, along with the development of standard operating procedures
  • Top-down commitment to the development and maintenance of workplace safety practices
  • Empower every employee to advocate for safety and recognize when workplace injuries are reduced, minimized or avoided.
  • Provide training and training materials to employees in the language they best understand

How can an organization establish a safety process for workers who may not speak fluent English, or if English is their second language and the fluency level varies from one person to the next? Not to mention, some individuals might come from a part of the world that may not place value on or implement workplace safety training.

The first step is confirming that all training and materials are offered in the employees' language. Encouraging employees to embrace a safety culture helps ensure safety is prioritized while engaged in any task. A follow-up step should include post-training discussions with staff who focus on training to ensure everyone understands what was covered. It could be as simple as asking "what if" questions, allowing the employee to explain how they would address an issue, and encouraging them to not only have the answer but also to provide an example of how best to act. This basic step is the beginning of introducing a workplace safety culture and encouraging employees to make this part of their regular approach to all work tasks. By providing training and safety materials in the language best understood by the employee, the chances are much higher that there will be a greater understanding of general safety practices, along with a better understanding of why it is so important. It can also encourage employees to share this information with colleagues from similar cultures. 

For reference, the OSHA Worker Rights and Protection standards list several employer responsibilities, including the following: Employers must provide safety training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.

Building a culture within a culture is possible. By taking time to be intentional and creative, employers can help lead their organizations toward this goal and effectively connect with diverse groups within their teams.

We can help you or your company meet these training goals. Harper College offers FREE OSHA based workplace safety classes, with some offered in Spanish. Contact us for more information.

Last Updated: 12/14/23