I took several years of French, but I would hardly consider myself proficient. I remember “fromage” and “vin” pretty well but they would only help me in a cheese shop. If I moved to a French-speaking country and started a new job, I might understand 1 out of every 50 words I heard if they were spoken very slowly. It comes as no surprise to me that non-English speaking immigrant workers in this country have it much harder than their English-speaking counterparts. They’re receiving information while trying to translate it and comprehend it, but it’s all moving faster than some of them can handle and understandably so.
This communication breakdown not only costs the business in terms of productivity but also in terms of injury rate. Dangerous industries like manufacturing, oil, construction, and farming all rely on a large amount of non-English speaking employees. These jobs already face higher risks of injury than a typical desk job, add the fact that the workers are being given instructions in a foreign language. OSHA reports that almost 25 percent of job related accidents are due to these language barriers. Another report from the CDC found that foreign-born Hispanic workers suffered a fatal injury rate up to 69 percent higher than native born Hispanic workers, who might have a better sense of English after living here that much longer.
There is a lengthy study that looks at various data surrounding limited English speakers and workplace injury trends which finds that those who speak fluent English work in safer jobs. Their statistics are already staggering and there are probably even more unreported incidents involving migrant or undocumented workers.
OSHA has tried to address this by directing their officers to observe whether employers provided safety training in a language their workers might better understand. OSHA can issue citations or penalties to employers whose employees fail to understand safety procedures that are presented to them. They cannot mandate that safety trainings have to be given in another language but they are trying to offer more resources and assistance for employers with large immigrant workforces.
I think OSHA is taking the right kind of initiative to address this trend. Diversity is growing in this country which translates to a workforce that is more diverse. The Pew Research Center has projected that by 2050, one in five Americans will be an immigrant. There’s no guarantee those workers will speak English. It’s important that they still understand the safety precautions necessary in their job so that everyone remains healthy and safe.