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Keep Your Employees Safe by Breaking Down Language Barriers


6 min read

Written by


Argos Multilingual

Published on

16 Jun 2021

If you’re a global business with a multilingual workforce, properly translated health and safety documents are a necessity. Preventable injuries and deaths happen when employees don’t follow instructions, and to be followed properly those instructions need to be understood perfectly.

In November 2002, a 20-year-old Hispanic worker in Michigan was killed while removing bridge formwork as he stood atop an elevated truck bed. When he and a colleague attempted to lower the platform, the bed malfunctioned and would not go down. A supervisor instructed the pair to attempt to raise the platform for a moment and then try lowering it again. The truck bed bulkhead was thrust upward, crushing the two workers against a bridge beam.

Investigations found that no supervisor working on site could communicate in Spanish (the native language of the worker who lost his life) and that while the company did have a documented safety program that included weekly training, none of it was conducted in Spanish.

The only real way to avoid a similar situation is to consider language translation as part of the initial employment cost of an international workforce and as part of your health and safety audit. If you are not sure that your employees can read documents related to the health and safety aspects of their job, you’ll need to have a translation available in their language. However, translating this potentially life-saving documentation is not as easy as it may seem at first glance.

Your materials need to be plainly written and include explanations of obscure or difficult terms to convey the clearest possible meaning after document translation, but some languages simply don’t have technical words or workplace terms that match the words used in certain workplaces and industries. When it comes to safety materials, it’s important to make sure that the materials convey the proper nuance and subjective wording.

Ambiguity or confusion also increases the risk of possible accidents and serious injuries. Because many languages vary among regions within the same country, localization will need to be part of your document translation process, and you’ll need to make sure you know all the language variations and dialects that are spoken among your workforce and potential worker pool. With that in mind, here are some key steps that can make the process of translating this critical information a little easier.

Review the source

First things first – complete a full and exhaustive content review to make sure your materials are ready for translation. Do you need legal or compliance information to guarantee that the content is aligned with local regulations? Are there differences in the way health and safety instructions are communicated in the target language? These are all questions that need to be asked before you do anything else.

Build glossaries

For the sake of accuracy and consistency, it’s a good idea to have in-market contacts work with translation teams to agree on approved translations of industry-specific terminology for every target language. These should be collected in a glossary of terminology and used by the translation team. The more translations you complete, the more your glossaries can be expanded.

Get the right linguists on board

Health and safety documents require highly experienced linguists with a detailed understanding of how to communicate relevant information in the target language. That’s why it’s so important to use only native-speaking translators and proofreaders with experience in health and safety translations and relevant industry knowledge.

Take advantage of technology

For large volumes of content like health and safety policies and training documents, translation memory (TM) software is particularly useful. Translation memories store key terms and phrases in each target language, and all new content is analyzed against them in order to identify any previously translated phrases. This effectively reduces word counts and increases translation consistency.

Review, then review again

Extra reviews by legal or compliance experts in your organization should be built into the translation process at the start and at the end of projects. Integrating multiple reviews provides more opportunities for feedback and makes sure that the translated content complies with your policies and procedures.

The Argos way

The safety of your employees is too important to trust to anyone but experienced professionals. At Argos, our expert linguists are also subject matter experts in their industries, which ensures clear understanding and translations of your industry-specific terminology. And because our quality processes are ISO certified, you can be sure your safety materials will be translated accurately and efficiently.

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