Why Every Company Needs a Multilingual Health & Safety Policy

Last Updated January 5, 2021

Health and safety regulations are good for people and good for business. But if they’re not multilingual, they’re not working.

Health and safety considerations are a ubiquitous part of modern life, and nowhere more so that in the workplace.

By addressing the essential welfare concerns of employers, visitors, and customers, health and safety regulations also make good business sense by protecting against potential prosecution and improving staff retention and morale.

Typically comprising a wide variety of documentation—from risk assessments to detailed instruction manuals—the effectiveness of health and safety regulations is dependent on the clarity and consistency of the language used.

The Importance of Health & Safety Communications

As business has become more globalized, so has health and safety policy, with international standards applying to many countries.

Instructions for the safe use of tools, electrical devices, and machinery should accompany any new items entering the workplace. Chemicals come with toxicity warnings and guidance for their safe use. Furniture, equipment, and working environments must comply with ergonomic rules that consider people’s physical capabilities and limitations.

Each industry has its own health and safety focus, ranging from a policy regarding Personal Protective Equipment to information on the use of company vehicles, as well as universal policy requirements like fire safety and the reporting of workplace accidents.

If an employee is injured at work, the legal situation will hinge on what safety information was available to the employee when the injury occurred. If the guidelines and procedures are provided in all employees’ languages, the company will be protected. If not, the company may be considered negligent.

According to the details laid out in the ISO 45001 international health and safety standard: “An organization is responsible for the occupational health and safety of workers and others who can be affected by its activities. This responsibility includes promoting and protecting their physical and mental health.”

Therefore, all employees must fully understand the company’s health and safety policy. For a company operating globally, this means delivering a health and safety program that’s comprehensive and comprehendible for its entire multilingual workforce.

Multilingual Health & Safety Policies

Health and safety messaging can be presented is many ways, including:

All text, annotations, and captions must be accurately recreated in each language—and, in each case, the translation must be as instantly understandable in the target language as it is in the source.

Making health and safety documentation understandable across multiple languages is particularly challenging as the content is often highly technical—yet it needs to be conveyed clearly with unambiguous impact.

Localization issues—such as adapting language to account for local laws and cultural differences—and ensuring that idioms and other figures of speech are not translated in a way that loses their meaning in the target language all need to be considered. In some languages, there may not even be a direct translation for certain industry-specific terms.

Where such modifications are required, it’s crucial that no ambiguities arise in the newly formed target text.

How to Translate Health & Safety Regulations

A suitable translation process for this essential information should incorporate the following three stages:

1. Legal Assessment

Whatever forms, the health and safety messaging takes, it’s important to carry out an initial review to assess the full scope of any translation project.

For example, is legal advice or verification regarding compliance rules required in the target language? If so, legal and compliance experts within the translation team can be brought into the process.

2. Expert Translation

Highly experienced, native-language medical translators with a knowledge of health and safety legislation will deliver far better results than non-specialist translators. Failing to accurately capture a vital nuance when translating a key directive can have serious consequences.

3. Translation Memory Retention

To ensure accuracy and consistency throughout a translation, it’s worthwhile to build a list of previously translated phrases, particularly for industry-specific terms. Storing this in a database creates a translation memory, which can be referred to whenever repeated terms arise.

Summa Linguae Technologies (SLT) uses cutting-edge technology to deliver first-rate, cost-effective outcomes using translation memories.

As Micheline Freij, Managing Director US at SLT explains:

Micheline Freij

Managing Director US, Summa Linguae Technologies

"A translation memory is particularly useful when we’re talking about large volumes of health and safety content. It allows us to reuse previously translated content, which not only improves consistency, but also speeds up the translation process and reduces cost significantly."

Don’t let language be a barrier to workplace safety

In the modern work environment with an itinerant international workforce full of cultural diversity, multilingual health and safety regulations have never been more necessary.

Regardless of where in the world your business operates and what languages you use, health and safety policies need to be understood by everyone. The wellbeing of your employers, visitors, and customers is too important to risk the possibility of your business’s health and safety documentation containing the slightest flaw.

Summa Linguae Technologies can help your company establish clear, coherent health and safety communications across a wide range of resources, languages, and cultures. To benefit from years of experience in this field, or to request further information, contact SLT today.

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