One of the issues surrounding site safety that is often overlooked but remains vitally important is communication. Good communication is a vital element of site safety and can actually save lives.
While companies in every industry rely on good communication for their efficient operation and productivity, in the construction industry it is even more important because it is a key element in site safety.
Logically workers who are not able to communicate with each other are placed in danger because if they are not able to communicate with each other and with their employers, there could be serious, even life-threatening repercussions.
In Australia the issue of language is particularly relevant because there are so many migrant workers currently in Oz whose first language is not English. This makes it more difficult for them to communicate and be communicated to about safety procedures and other important issues relating to work on the site.
Employers and principal contractors have a responsibility to their workers to know their language preferences and make sure they understand the sites health and safety procedures.
Another important aspect of communication is that employers continuously communicate with workers, especially regarding safety. This should be a two way type of communication and not just communication as dictated by the employer. Employees deal with the hazards of the site each day and have first-hand knowledge and experience that may benefit the site which needs to be communicated to the employer, such as whether current measures are still effective regarding hazards etc.
A good idea would be to conduct a safety meeting with workers each day or week so that all parties can raise any issues or concerns they may have and these can be dealt with accordingly to ensure continued health and safety on the site.
A face-to face discussion with employees is a good way of ensuring good communication across different language barriers because it also allows for feedback and is interactive. It also provides a platform where misunderstandings can be identified and immediately dealt with.
Some employers prefer using written material to get the message across. This is an effective method as long as material provided is in language that is clear, concise and simple and has pictures that illustrate the safety message in a more clear way that verbal communication would. Also it is available to workers to refer to at any stage in the construction process so that their minds can be refreshed when necessary.
Principal contractors or supervisors should determine whether translation of the material is necessary and whether there are bilingual workers who can help with this or if an outside person should be brought in.
Safety signs are an excellent way of communicating hazards to workers whose first language is not English. Warning and safety signs convey the message to workers better because it is in a visual rather than verbal form and certain signs are universal so regardless of where the worker is from they will be able to understand.
Regardless of language, every worker should be provided with a safe working environment and safe system of work by employers. This includes being informed, educated and trained on site hazards and control measures, emergency response procedures etc. of the site in a language that workers can comprehend.