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Language barrier, limited training and higher-risk jobs endanger workers, employers

Lack of communications can be a recipe for injuries - OSHA provides free "quick start" guide

In today's warehouse, distribution center, or manufacturing facility, it's increasingly likely that some or all of the workforce will speak English as a second language, or not at all. For plant managers, the challenge is not only keeping a workforce that doesn't speak the language productive, but also how to keep it safe.

OSHA's protective standards apply for employers to protect their employees, regardless of whether the employee is working at that site for one day or permanently employed there, said Joseph Reina, deputy regional administrator of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Compounding the problem, workers coming from Hispanic countries often are unaware of the labor laws in the United States and may not be experienced with the more elaborate tools and techniques used here, placing them at higher risk for injury. As a plant manager, learning Spanish or hiring a Spanish speaking foreman may help in both the safety and the productivity areas.

The OSHA Hispanic Outreach Module of Compliance Assistance Quick Start will assist employers with a Spanish-speaking workforce to learn more about employer and employee workplace rights and responsibilities, identify Spanish-language outreach resources, detail how employers can work cooperatively with OSHA, and provide a list of persons whom they can contact for additional information. By following this step-by-step guide, employers will be able to identify OSHA Spanish-language resources on OSHA’s website that will help them comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 as well as help them to prevent employee workplace injuries and illnesses.

The OSHA Hispanic Outreach Quick Start is a good resource for Spanish language information, guides, and data.