Language barriers mean new dangers at work

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date: 8 December 2004

embargo: 00.01hrs Thursday 9 December 2004

Attention: industrial and safety media

Concern that migrant workers could be missing out on crucial health and safety training because their employers are not providing safety material in any language other than English has prompted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the TUC to publish today (Thursday) a new safety leaflet translated into 19 different languages.

'Your health, your safety: A guide for workers' provides information about safety rights at work, the level of safety training that workers should expect from their employers, and who they should complain to if they believe their safety is being compromised by poor workplace practices.

Employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to provide all their employees with the appropriate safety training to enable them to do their jobs without risk of illness or injury. But so far this year, there have been a number of fatalities involving migrant workers employed in the UK.

With migrant workers now employed in many UK workplaces, lots with only a limited grasp of English, the HSE and the TUC were anxious that safety training purely delivered in English was not being sufficiently well understood. The new leaflets - published in Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Czech, Greek, Gujarati, Pashto, Portuguese, Polish, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Tamil, Turkish, Ukrainian and Welsh, as well as English - are an attempt to improve safety awareness for this growing segment of the UK workforce.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: "Workplace deaths in the UK are on the increase and there's a danger that we could soon start to see more fatalities and serious injuries at work as language barriers mean safety messages are going over workers' heads.

"Thorough, but easy-to-understand training is vital if workers are to stay healthy and safe at work. Unions are doing all they can to help foreign workers grasp the basics of English and now employers can use our leaflets to make sure the safety message is being understood loudly and clearly. "

HSE Chair Bill Callaghan commented: "We are pleased to be working in partnership with the TUC in getting the message across to all workers about their basic rights and responsibilities, irrespective of language differences."

Union learning reps from construction union UCATT have been helping migrant workers who speak only a few words of English improve their safety awareness by running basic language courses in a learning centre sited at the foot of the Canary Wharf Tower. The centre has proved very popular with the workers - who are mainly from Eastern Europe - and the learning reps say that a basic grasp of English can literally mean the difference between life and death for the workers on site.

NOTES TO EDITORS: All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk http://www.tuc.org.uk Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit http://www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet A series of TUC rights leaflets are available on our website and from the know your rights line 0870 600 4 882. Lines are open every day from 9am-9pm. Calls are charged at the national rate.

HSC/E has duties under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, to proactively promote the equality of opportunity and eliminate unlawful racial discrimination. HSC/E’s Race Equality Scheme identifies actions being taken to improve communication with ethnic minority stakeholders. The scheme can be viewed online at http://www.hse.gov.uk/hsc/res.pdf.

HSC/E’s Race Equality Scheme, Action Plan - Action Point 5, identifies the need for HSC/E to ‘publish and promote core information on occupational health and safety in key languages other than English and Welsh’. The bilingual publication of this booklet demonstrates HSC/E’s commitment to deliver this action.

Media enquiries: (TUC) : Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248; Pager: 07699 744115; E: media@tuc.org.uk/ (HSE) Ray Allger 020 7717 6179, Out of hours 020 7928 8382

HSE Public Enquiries : Call HSE's InfoLine, Tel: 08701 545500, or write to: HSE InfoLine, Caerphilly Business Park, Caerphilly CF83 3GG. HSE information and press releases can be accessed on the Internet: http://www.hse.gov.uk/

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