In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) that created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA’s mission is to assure safe and healthy working conditions for workers by creating and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. The OSH Act requires employers to provide a workplace free of known health and safety hazards. The OSHA Act also granted workers several rights, including the right to receive information and training about hazards, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. OSHA requires this training and information be provided in a language and vocabulary the workers understand.
Why is this important?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011 there were roughly 60.6 million people in the United States who spoke a language other than English. Of those 60.6 million people, approximately 37.6 million spoke Spanish, and this number continues to grow. According to an article published by The Guardian, in 2015 there were approximately 41 million Spanish-speaking people in the United States. The same article projected that number will be 138 million by the year 2050.
Suggestions for Employers
With the large numbers of Spanish-speaking employees, we suggest employers make some adjustments to their OSHA safety and health training and information, including, but not limited to:
- Provide safety and health training and information to your employees in a language they understand (do not assume your employees understand English, especially technical or legal terminology).
- When training your employees, provide a qualified translator (someone who understands the terms used in your industry), if necessary.
- If reading comprehension is an issue, provide your employees verbal training, with the aid of a qualified translator if necessary, and draft policies and training materials with simplified language and make sure you include diagrams and illustrations.
- Demonstrate appropriate safety actions, as well as inappropriate ones.
- Use written tests, translated if necessary, to confirm your employees understand the safety rules
- Verbally quiz your employees to ensure they understand the safety rules. But, do not ask yes or no questions (employees who do not fully understand English may simply nod or say yes). Instead, ask open ended questions that require the employee to respond with substance from the training.
What if employees do not understand the safety training and instructions?
OSHA gives employees the right to complain about their unsafe working conditions, including inadequate training. Complaints about inadequate training may subject employers to OSHA inspections and ultimately, they may subject employers to fines. And, it is illegal to retaliate or discriminate against an employee because he or she complained about his or her working conditions.
The topics discussed in this article are general in nature. They do not constitute a complete list of the OSHA laws and regulations; they do not constitute legal advice; and they do not create an attorney-client relationship. To discuss the aspects of your specific legal needs, is recommended you contact an attorney directly.