4. Help with language issues

Employers have a duty to provide comprehensible information to workers. This does not have to be in writing or even necessarily in English, as long as work instructions, risks, safety measures and emergency procedures are clearly communicated to all workers.

Health and safety law does not require workers to be able to speak English but learning the language should help to reduce communication difficulties and can save on costs for translation. You can do this for non-English speakers through flexible working arrangements that allow them time to learn ‘workplace English’.

It’s important to make sure workers can communicate effectively with their supervisor and co-workers. Some options to ensure effective communication when people in a workplace are not all fluent in the same language include:

  • ask an employee who shares the same native language and also speaks good English to act as an interpreter
  • seek outside help by hiring a professional (accredited) interpreter use professional translation software or free online tools
  • use a ‘buddy system’ by pairing experienced workers with new or inexperienced migrant workers who speak the same language
  • use non-verbal communication, such as video and audio - you can also use internationally recognised signs and symbols (for example hazard signs) and include hand signals
  • use simple, clear English in training sessions, while also training supervisors so they can communicate clearly to people with limited English skills.

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Updated 2022-12-09