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How to Translate Your Health and Safety Documents to Keep Your Multilingual Workforce Safe

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In 2020, more than 4,760 employees in the United States died following an injury on the job. Construction, transportation, and warehousing recorded the highest fatality rates. However, workplace health and safety are critical across all industries and sectors.

If you operate a global business with a multilingual workforce, thorough and accurate translation of your safety documentation is vital to protecting your most valuable asset – your people.

Workplace injuries and deaths are often preventable, but your employees can’t follow instructions they don’t understand. In this article, we’ll walk through the step-by-step process of translating and localizing your health and safety documents. But first, let’s take a deeper dive into the invaluable role translation plays in your overall workplace safety strategy.

multilingual workforce

The Importance of Translated Health and Safety Documentation

English is today’s international language, much like Latin or Greek in ancient times. Despite this, research conducted by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) highlighted the value of local cultures and languages within US businesses. According to the study Making Languages Our Businessnine in ten employers rely significantly on employees who speak a language other than English. Moreover, this figure is set to increase – according to the research, 56 percent of employers believe the demand for multilingual workers will rise in the next five years.

Although multilingual workforces are the norm, 90 percent of leaders face language proficiency challenges. The math paints a concerning picture, one where the majority of businesses struggle to communicate effectively with their multilingual workforces. Not only is this compromising employees’ output quality and customer experience, but it is also putting people – workers, customers, and the general public – at an increased risk of accident, injury, or worse.

So, why not just run your safety documentation through Google Translate or other automated translation software? For one, Google Translate is not accurate enough to capture the nuance and subjectivity of potentially life-saving content. Its translation ability varies significantly between languages (generally, translating English to European languages is more accurate than translating to Asian languages), too, and scores an average of 4.263 out of 6. Human-level quality translation is around 4.636. This discrepancy can be enough to distort instructions and cloud meaning.

Instead, companies with multilingual employees should enlist the help of professional translators who, in addition to accurate translation, can deliver localized content that caters to the cultural expectations of your global workforce.

multilingual workforce

Five Steps to Ensure Your Health and Safety Documents Are Translated Accurately

When it comes to safeguarding the health and safety of people who drive your business’s success, shortcuts are not an option. Instead, diligence and attention to detail are crucial.

Here are five steps to follow to ensure your health and safety documentation serves its purpose.

Step 1: Review Your Health and Safety Documentation

Before you invest in the translation and localization process, carefully review your documentation as it stands. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Outdated content: Have you changed the way you manufacture your products? Have you brought in a significant number of new team members? Have you moved to a new facility? Ensure your health and safety documents are relevant and up to date by removing or updating content that no longer applies.
  • Mistakes: Typos, misprints, and other minor mistakes can interrupt the translation process. Proofread your content and fix any mistakes you encounter.
  • Legal or compliance issues: Health and safety regulations evolve quickly, but you can’t plead ignorance should you be caught out for ignoring your obligations. Check that your safety information is compliant and fulfills any legal requirements your business may have.

At the end of this stage, you should be 100 percent confident your original health and safety documentation is up to date, relevant, compliant, and error-free.

Step 2: Create a Glossary of Key Terms

Clarity, consistency, and accuracy are cornerstones of effective workplace health and safety documentation and become even more important within multilingual workforces. A comprehensive glossary can help to preserve these hallmarks throughout the translation process.

In addition to standard definitions, your glossary should include industry-specific terminology and role responsibilities. This can eliminate confusion and delay in urgent situations.

Step 3: Enlist the Help of Experienced Translators

Language is nuanced and differs between countries and regions. For example, Spanish encompasses 16 major dialects, including Castilian Spanish, Murcian Spanish, and Mexican Spanish. Ten varieties of Chinese are spoken across the country (two of which are only spoken by 1 percent of the population), including Mandarin, Jin, and Wu. For this reason, working with an experienced team of translators and localization experts is key to producing effective content.

As well as depth of language knowledge, translators with experience working on health and safety documentation and other workplace materials are better positioned to identify and address communication challenges.

multilingual workforce

Step 4: Don’t Just Translate – Localize

Where translation focuses on language, localization incorporates cultural expectations, customs, and norms. Localized content is tailored to a specific audience within a particular part of the world.

Here’s a simple example. Say your safety document instructs employees to stand at least three feet from a machine while operating. If your audience is accustomed to using the metric system, they may have difficulty visualizing three feet. The localization process would pick up on this issue and convert three feet into centimeters.

Localization also covers imagery, diagrams, and video.

Step 5: Triple-Check the Finished Product

Before you issue your translated and localized health and safety documentation, have your legal team check it for compliance. Multiple review rounds will provide more opportunities for feedback and helps you ensure that your localized content complies with your policies and procedures.

Protect Your Multilingual Employees with Expert Translation and Localization

The health and safety of your workforce are paramount, and protecting their well-being on the job demands expertly curated documentation that is clear, concise, and accurate. That’s where we come in.

We are localization experts committed to helping ambitious companies realize their potential with global talent. Get in contact to learn more about our translation and localization services.

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