HazCom Training: How to Assist Non-English Speaking Employees

By Jason Good on March 24, 2015

HazCom TrainingFor companies that deal with hazardous chemicals, compliance with federal regulations can be a big task. When it comes to meeting training requirements, the employer is responsible for delivering training in a language the employee understands. 

Language barriers can be a significant hurdle for small to mid-sized companies, which often don’t have the bandwidth for a safety administrator or team. When employees don’t speak English, the task can grow into a costly project — a reality for many United States business owners. Consider, for instance, that an estimated 20 percent of people living in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home, according to a 2014 study from the Center for Immigration Studies. That’s one in five Americans — or 61.8 million people. And it’s climbing steadily, the study reports. 

If you have non-English speaking employees who work with hazardous chemicals, what do you need to know about the standards? How can you ease your workload and ensure that your employees understand the risks? 

Standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) stipulate that formal training must be provided before your employees begin working with hazardous chemicals. If the employees don’t speak English — or don’t understand it well enough to comprehend detailed technical instruction — the burden is still on you, the employer, to communicate the training effectively.

Revised in 2012, OSHA’s standard on hazard communication (1910.1200(h)) spells out your requirements, which include the following:

  • Your employees are to be trained at the time they are assigned to work with a hazardous chemical.
  • Training [requirements] are not satisfied solely by giving employees data sheets to read. As an employer, you’re required to provide a forum-like training program that explains to employees not only the hazards of the chemicals in their work area but also how to use the information generated in the hazard communication program. This can be accomplished in many ways (audiovisuals, classroom instruction, or interactive video). It needs to include an opportunity for employees to ask questions about the information presented to them and for you to gauge how well they understand. 
  • If your employees receive job instructions in a language other than English, then the training and information to be conveyed under the [federal standards] will also need to be conducted in a foreign language.

For many companies, a first step to meeting these requirements may be to hire a translator (for written material, such as safety data sheets) and/or an interpreter (for spoken language, such as training sessions). OSHA offers a Spanish version of its website, as well as translated versions of some educational materials and publications across these languages: Chinese, Korean, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.  

But for small-to-mid-size business owners, who have limited time and resources, mobile apps can ease the burden. For instance, employers can use checklist-style applications to track training regulation and compliance in a way that saves time, helps them stay organized, and ultimately boosts the bottom line. Employees, likewise, can use apps to keep up with training requirements and on the job to track information and ensure they’re taking the proper precautions.

These apps can be written in languages other than English. At GoCanvas, for instance, we’ve created a way for employers to turn any existing paper form into a mobile app, cutting that costly, difficult-to-manage paper trail out of the process. If your forms are already written in other languages, the conversion of that form into a mobile app would integrate the foreign language, without any added work or expense on your part.

Training employees on how to work safely around hazardous chemicals is an important responsibility. It’s critical to make sure every employee understands. If you’re looking for solutions that can help your team save time and improve your results, take a look at our close to 200 mobile apps created by and for companies that handle hazardous chemicals and then give it a try