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Multilingual companies: the challenges of occupational safety training

To be effective, occupational safety training must overcome language and cultural barriers. Here are the benefits of eLearning

Safety at workplace is a must. Employees performing their duties must be able to do so safely at the risk they may take. This requires safety planning at all levels: from assessing risks, to providing tools and clothing, to continually reviewing emergency response procedures and drafting all documentation required by regulations.

Not only that. Worker training on safety issues, in addition to being a legal requirement, is also a tool that can make an important contribution to this end. The best tools prove ineffective if those who employ them do not know their limitations and proper uses. Even more, safety training, if done properly, enables more than just competence in emergency response. An employee trained in the hazards of his or her job is able to actively prevent injuries and emergencies. The best emergency response is the one that does not have to be put in place.

This is true for all enterprises, of any size, for each according to the risks taken by their employees. Clear instructions, detailed and comprehensive content, provided by subject matter experts are compiled in special training courses, aimed at the totality of employees and those individuals who hold special positions.

It is essential that employees understand what is taught to the best of their ability to acquire appropriate knowledge and skills. A problem may arise when employees belong to different languages and cultures. The language barrier can be a complicating factor that must be given due consideration. Language and cultural barriers, geographic distribution of employees, and regulatory differences between countries can greatly complicate the implementation of an effective and uniform occupational safety training program. This is where eLearning can help as an effective solution: through the use of digital training platforms, multilingual companies can offer occupational safety content translated and adapted to the specific language and cultural needs of employees efficiently and effectively. In addition, eLearning also makes it possible to overcome the geographic distribution of employees, with content easily accessible remotely.

Language and cultural barriers in workplace safety training

Linguistic and cultural diversity within multilingual companies can be a significant barrier to effective occupational safety training. Language differences can impair communication and understanding of key information regarding safety, while cultural differences can affect the perception and adaptation of safety regulations.

It would be mistaken to think that this problem affects only certain types of companies. Multinational companies may attract employees from different countries and have multiple locations around the world. This is a first group of companies for which language and cultural barriers must be addressed. The same problem can also arise in smaller companies if they have among their staff people who have recently immigrated or who do not master the new language as well as they could. This can be a serious problem, for example, in the construction or industrial sectors, where injury risks are more frequent, severe, and heterogeneous.

Language barriers can create misunderstandings and compromise the effectiveness of occupational safety training. If training materials are not available in employees' native languages or are not translated accurately, understanding of crucial information may be compromised. This increases the risk of incorrect or incomplete interpretations of safety procedures and can jeopardize employees' own safety.

Similarly, cultural differences can affect perceptions of workplace safety. Standards and practices may vary from country to country, resulting in different understandings of safety priorities, safe operating practices, and rules of conduct. Cultural differences can also affect communication and trust between employees and training providers, necessitating a sensitive and adapted approach.

Approaches to overcoming language and cultural barriers with eLearning

eLearning offers several solutions for overcoming language and cultural barriers in training on safety at work. Here are some effective approaches:

  • Accurate translation of training materials
  • Multi-language contents
  • Audio-visual training tools
  • Cultural adjustment

Use professional translation and localization services to ensure that occupational safety training materials are available in employees' native languages. It is important not to limit yourself to literal translation, but to adapt the content for accurate understanding within the relevant cultural context.

Take advantage of the multilingual capabilities of eLearning platforms to offer occupational safety training in different languages. This allows employees to access materials in their preferred language, improving understanding and application of safety regulations.

Use multimedia elements, such as videos and images, to convey occupational safety concepts in a more universal and understandable way, reducing reliance on spoken language. These visual elements can overcome language barriers and facilitate understanding among employees of different languages and cultures.

Consider cultural differences when creating training materials. For example, use examples or scenarios that are relevant to employees' cultural experiences and norms. This promotes greater engagement and better enforcement of workplace safety norms.

eLearning offers the flexibility to adapt occupational safety training to the specific language and cultural needs of multilingual companies.

Geographic distribution of employees and occupational safety training

Multilingual companies often face the challenge of training employees on safety at work spread across multiple geographic locations. Geographic distribution can complicate the delivery of uniform training, ensure regulatory compliance, and maintain a high level of safety awareness across all locations.

Managing training for employees distributed in different countries can lead to difficulties in ensuring equal accessibility of content, such as consistency of content. On the one hand, then, each location must adapt to the specific regulations of the country in which it is located; on the other hand, this can lead to duplication of materials and, ultimately, costs.

eLearning can contribute to this by allowing ubiquitous access to materials, regardless of access times. The same materials then can be kept as homogeneous as possible.

Regulatory differences between countries and occupational safety training

Multilingual companies face the complexity of workplace safety regulations that can vary significantly from country to country. These regulatory differences can create challenges in managing effective and uniform training programs to ensure global regulatory compliance.

Occupational safety regulations can be influenced by cultural, social and legal factors specific to each country. This can result in differences in the safety requirements, practices and standards that companies must comply with. Variations may relate, for example, to accident reporting procedures, personal protective equipment standards or ergonomics regulations.

This regulatory complexity requires multilingual companies to adapt their occupational safety training programs according to the specific requirements of each country in which they operate. It is critical to understand regulatory differences to ensure that the training offered complies with local laws and meets specific safety requirements.

eLearning platforms can allow for adaptation to local regulations by customizing materials, changing reference sources or sections that relate to different practices and regulations. An eLearning course then can be centrally updated, in case one of these laws changes.

Furthermore, performances’ reporting and monitoring allow to evaluate the effectiveness of the training programme and, in case, to identify non-compliant areas. These data can be useful to adjust the training and guarantee a better awareness and safety at work.

Bottom line

Occupational safety training is as important as it is delicate in ensuring the safety of a company's employees. All participants need to be able to assimilate the concepts and practices outlined in order to perform their tasks to the best of their ability: from clerk to bricklayer, from lab technician to warehouse worker, each task involves specific risks; in addition to these there are the risks inherent in the relevant industry and interference risks, for work performed elsewhere.

The changing population, with immigrants and second- and third-generation workers, extends the problem of understanding the material to people who may not speak or speak well the language of the country in which they work. In addition to the language problem, the cultural problem, with the heritage of references and practices, should also be considered. These factors can limit the assimilation of concepts essential to safety.

As can be seen, this problem may not only concern large multinational companies, where the multicultural context is an inherent factor and in which larger organizational size allows for due consideration of this problem. Smaller, locally rooted companies that only target the domestic market may also have these needs. eLearning platforms allow this problem to be addressed, thanks to flexibility in content, and to the monitoring of the performance of each user of safety courses.

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