Employee Safety for Non-Native English Speakers

The following statements may surprise you. But, believe it or not, studies have shown that unfortunately this is a growing trend in employee safety:

  • Hispanic and Latino workers have the highest workplace fatality rate of any group
  • Hispanic and Latino fatality rates are nearly 50% higher than the overall rate
  • Fatality rates for occupational injury are on the rise for the Hispanic and Latino population. Rates among nearly all other groups are falling
  • These trends can be seen in other populations with limited English proficient (LEP) workers, including immigrant populations
  • Inappropriate employee training is largely attributed to language barrier issues

This is a major concern for industries that employ large numbers of LEP workers. Industries often sited are construction, agriculture, manufacturing and service industries like hospitality.

The Struggles of non-native English speakers

As American workplaces become increasingly diverse, language deficiencies can become a huge obstacle for many businesses. Employees who don’t speak English typically struggle to understand common workplace procedures. They also struggle with instructions when those procedures are related to safety. A lack of comprehension can lead to unfortunate and sometimes fatal outcomes.

Why does this happen? How can this be corrected? These are just a couple of questions that often surround these situations. And, the most common culprit is that many non-English-speaking employees struggle to read. They struggle with training documents, safety signs and other written materials. Because they fear being misunderstood or getting into trouble, often they don’t feel very comfortable asking for clarification.

What can be done to protect employees of all backgrounds?

According to Creative Safety Publishing, the following four tips have made a positive difference.

  1. Make It Visual

We often talk about how having a visual workplace can improve communication. This holds true for workers with a limited understanding of English. Posting safety signs, labels, and other clear visual cues can help these workers understand the hazards and instructions of the workplace.

To facilitate comprehension of visuals like safety signs, try to focus on images or pictograms that will be easily understood. “Warning” and “Caution” signs, for example, have a standard format that uses an image and basic text. You could consider printing signs in more than one language, too. This is most feasible if your workers as a group only speak one language besides English (instead of many different languages).

In general, it’s a good idea to use standard colors and symbols on your signs as employees may already recognize the signs (for example, fire exit signs) by the way they look. The increasing use of the globally harmonized system (GHS) labels for hazardous chemicals may also help workers recognize the different types of hazards. The goal of GHS is to make communication of hazards between companies and workers in different countries simpler. So, consider using these and other standard symbols in your visual workplace.

  1. Interpreters

Workers need to receive training and safety information in a language they understand. Otherwise it’s unlikely that all that important information will be understood. When conveying safety information to workers, have an interpreter on hand to communicate the information and to answer questions. This person could be an outside translator, a bilingual supervisor or even a bilingual employee.

Companies should also consider hiring a translation service to translate safety materials into the languages their employees speak. Be sure to test these materials out with a native speaker before distributing them or posting them in the workplace. Inaccurate translations or variations in dialect can lead to confusion. It’s important to make sure the materials are clear in English before you have anything translated. Unclear messaging in the original language will only get more diluted after translation.

  1. Training

Having an interpreter, we just mentioned, on hand during training sessions is key, but there are other things you can do during training to make sure non-English-speaking workers learn everything they need to know.

First, try to make training as hands-on as possible. Showing workers the tasks they will need to perform and the safety measures they will need to take (such as donning gloves, turning off the power to a machine before cleaning it or only walking in certain areas of the facility) will help these workers understand and remember what they need to do.

  1. Language Learning

While workplaces cannot insist their workers learn English, they can encourage workers to learn vocabulary that’s relevant to the tasks at hand. Learning job-related vocabulary will help speakers of different languages communicate with each other, and it will help workers with limited English proficiency feel more confident at work.

A company could encourage this kind of learning by having language lessons, distributing language-learning materials or having workers attend English as a Second Language classes outside the worksite. To avoid overwhelming workers, do try to focus on the most important terminology, though.

A case study example on employee safety:

According to Safety Online Skills Training, a study conducted by the Center for Protection of Worker’s Rights (CPWR), in conjunction with OSHA, Spanish-speaking construction workers were polled about their experiences with health and safety on the job. They were also provided with a 10-hour training course conducted in Spanish, with Spanish-speaking trainers and Spanish-language versions of OSHA handouts and brochures. According to the report, most workers stated that when they took other training in English, they did not understand a substantial amount of course content. Even when workers said they understood what was being said, they still did not have the English language skills to ask questions or participate in discussions.

All of the workers believed that receiving training in their native language was helpful. They also reported that they wanted more (and more effective) safety and health training delivered by Spanish-speaking trainers. “The interviewees faced substantial challenges when trying to understand what they were told at work.” They complained that supervisors and co-workers, who did not speak Spanish, were less willing to explain things to workers with limited English. As a result, they often told the workers to simply skip safety procedures.

Many of the workers sited examples of past onsite injury incidents they experienced. They believed that these injuries were directly related to either not receiving proper training, or to not understanding the English-language training they did receive. Many involved workers who simply did not know the proper procedures or what PPE they needed. Others involved workers ignoring instructions given in English, because they did not understand what they were being told.

Give employees the training, attention and protection they need

As an employee safety manager, HR professional, or business owner, it’s your job to make sure your employees feel safe and comfortable at work. This means accommodating workers who don’t understand English well. When companies don’t take the extra time to communicate effectively with these workers, they risk putting these employees in danger that could lead to accidents and injuries.

About LTC Language Solutions:

LTC Language Solutions is a full-service language company providing state-of-the-art language solutions for local and national companies, organizations, government agencies, and individuals since 1993. LTC provides language training, cross cultural training, interpretation, translation, repatriation, language assessments, interpreter and people skills training. They have gained a reputation for high-quality, customized services provided through long-term relationships, having some of the same clients for over 25 years.




Gabi was afraid to tackle speaking, until we just starting talking. She has now put out a yoga video with her speaking English. She will teach this class twice a week.

Maggie (Teacher in Atlanta, GA)

Kimberly, thank you for your training, all your explanation and criticism, and so much helpful information and tools you’ve shared these past weeks. You inspired me to write more and become more proficient in this craft. GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!

US Government Student Taking Writing Classes

It was the 3rd class with Kathy today. She is the best English trainer I’ve ever met. Her lessons really work good. So far I have nothing I need to ask you.

Nissan student from Japan.

Kallie has been absolutely great and an excellent match for the classes. Always looking the way to interact and find new ideas to approach the class has been awesome. Not easy with children, and ours is quite challenging some times, but they manage to get an understanding.

Language Training Parent

I really LOVE my Portuguese classes and Juliana is TERRIFIC… I never had a teacher as great as Juliana, she is amazing and it is teaching me not only to talk in Portuguese but also about the Brazilian culture that is helping me a lot to understand the way they communicate…

Student in Mexico

The instructor [Jeff] taught me not only English but also American culture, history, and food culture. He also gave me advice on getting a driver’s license, buying a car and furniture. Thanks to him, I started jogging and became healthier. He has helped me to make a full start in my new life. Thank you for introducing me to a very wonderful instructor.

Japanese student learning English

On behalf of Freedom House, I would like to sincerely thank you for you and your team’s services today. Your presence helped us to ensure that the event went smoothly and that all of the attendees were able to participate. Thank you so much!

Freedom House

I cannot express enough great things about this experience. Jeancois was absolutely fantastic- professional, flexible, and dynamic- qualities I have found that some interpreters don’t always demonstrate when working with the pediatric population.

Bilingual Professor

I have to say that Karen has been an amazing teacher. She is very kind and always is searching the way to explain me everything. Always works in her class in advance. Long story short she is great.

Student from Mexico learning English

I have had wonderful interpreters from LTC in the past, who have done a great job providing precise and accurate interpretation. Ms. Li, however, goes far above and beyond what is expected. I’m so very grateful for her exceptional service to both this family and to ZCS.

Director of Student Services

When Covid hit we were cautious allowing anyone but the patient in the office and this is a wonderful helping hand in the matter.

Interpreting Location Manager

Thank you. I appreciate what you do to help our Company succeed with better communication for our fellow employees.

Director of Human Resources – Staffing Company

I Would Recommend Ltc To Other Global Companies Requiring Interpretation Services. During Our Event, The Performance Of Ltc Made Me Feel At Ease Which Allowed Me To Focus My Attention On Other Aspects Of The Event. I Believe That When You Work With Ltc, You Will Receive A Professional And Efficient Team Of People Who Will Do Everything In Their Power To Deliver Excellent Service.

D. Hayden

We meet virtually now. He even gave me a cooking lesson….he tried his best to do it in Japanese but we ended up doing most of it in English ????. While I may have learned less words, I certainly got to learn how to make tempura!!

Patrick (Happy Student in Tokyo)

Joseph was an excellent instructor. He was very dedicated to teaching me the language skills I needed for my upcoming assignment.

Student from Government Program

Hi Wendy, I spoke with Stefano today and he sang praises for you, their English teachers and the CC trainer.

Relocation Counselor

I Really Have Appreciated The Classes With Nancy – She Is Wonderful Teacher And I Was Very Motivated To Learn More (And Always Felt Badly When I Struggled Because She Inspires One To Want To Be/Do Better). I Am Very Appreciative Of Having Had This Opportunity To Work With All Of You. It Is One Of The Very Best Language Classes I Have Taken In Years.

A. West

The ongoing lessons have helped break up the routine of quarantine and more importantly, a source of learning and personal improvement during these extraordinary times.

Jasmin (Student in Mexico City)

Floriana was an absolute delight, and I could not have asked for a better teacher. She was outstanding, well-prepared, adapting course materials to my needs and interests, responsive, caring, dedicated to making course content fit with my context, and most of all a friendly and smiling face every week for someone new in town.

Student from Denmark learning Italian

Thank you so much to all of you for this workshop, I absolutely loved all the information you shared and will definitely continue to address cultural differences in class.

French Instructor

I Hope All Is Well. I Wanted To Follow Up Regarding The Translating Last Weekend. The Gentleman Helping Us Was Fantastic. He Was The Epitome Of Customer Service And Was So Knowledgeable. He Is The Biggest Asset You Have At Your Company.


The LTC Is The Best English Training Compared To My Previous Language Training Experience Because They Really Understand What I Needed And The Important And Suitable Materials Useful To Apply At My Work. They Give Me Confident To Speak In English And My Writing Is Improving.

D. Sriyunilawati

Thank You For All Of Everyone’s Help With Fumiya. We Have All Seen Him Grow With The Ability To Communicate On The Daily Tasks. I Will Definitely Keep You On My Contacts In Future Situations Thank You Again Have A Great Day.


I wanted to say thank you for matching me with such a good teacher. I really feel much more confident after just a few lessons and this makes such a difference in my day to day happiness and feeling in Japan – the power to communicate is really important to me.

Japanese student

Ben and Andrea did a superb job, and were very prompt and courteous. I would highly recommend them for similar jobs in the future. Thank you, Sadie and Paige, for working with us as we make our show more inclusive.

ASL Client

Their phone interpretation service is a very easy and convenient service for us to use when we are seeing patients in the office. Douglas Price is a great person there and is very good at communicating with our practice and helping us with anything we need. Great company!

Practice Manager

Overall, I Thought The Course Was Fantastic. I Feel Like I Learned A Lot And Improved Significantly. Astrid Is A Great Professor. She Took The Class Seriously And Made It Enjoyable. She Did A Great Job Of Recognizing Everyone’s Weaknesses And Helping Us Improve On Them. She Focused On Improving Our Grammar While Also Keeping The Class Conversational. The Lessons Were Well Prepared And Focused On Areas We Needed To Learn, Not Just By-The-Book. It Felt Like The Class Was Tailored To The Student’s Abilities. I Am More Than Satisfied.

K. Corrigan

Juliana is even more than an amazing Portuguese teacher but also a cultural expert and a very lovely person. I will really miss her a lot…

Portuguese Student

I Enjoyed Studying With LTC. I Am Grateful For The Great Work With Ana And Her Professionalism To Customize Themes And Her Support In My Daily Life. I Feel More Comfortable With My Language.

D. Triviño

Kathleen, you have been an amazing and reliable addition to this student’s team for the past five school years. I want to express my gratitude to you as well as gratitude from the parents and student. We all appreciate your dedication to his access success!

Student’s School to Our Teacher

I Appreciate Your Qualified Language Training Program Very Much. You Made It Possible To Improve My Knowledge In The English Language In A Lot Of Ways: A Significant Increase Of Vocabulary, Repetition And Consolidation Of Grammar And Practice The English Language By Using It In Conversations During Every Lesson. I Am Very Thankful For All They´ve Done And I´ll Always Recommend Your Institution In The Future.

C. Muth

Kazuko Is A Wonderful Teacher And A Super Sweet Person. Thank You For Your Services And Timely Responses In Everything. I Plan To Recommend Ltc To Any And Everyone I Know Interested In Language Learning. Thank You!

J. Brogan

I just want to reach out and let you know that the interpreters did a great job at the conference last week. Olivia and Justin were a pleasure to work with.

Meeting Event Manager

I appreciate you, Anya and Lauren for leading the training. It was very beneficial and I got to immediately use some of the material in my class.

Language Training Workshop Teacher

The Classes With Katelyn Are Amazing. I Am Very Happy To Have Her As My Professor. She Is An Amazing Teacher And An Excellent Person. I Am Learning A Lot From Her. She Is Very Patient, Responsible, Punctual, Very Clear, And With Great Experience Teaching. She Is Helping Me A Lot To Improve My English.


I thoroughly enjoy working with him. He has all the proper material and the patience. our classes are very instructive and he doesn’t waste time.  Alvaro has been really good at being able to construct the pieces and then put them in place so that it all comes together and becomes usable. 

Spanish student

Thank you for organizing these workshops for teachers, we learn so much from each other and grow to be better instructors.

Language Training Instructor

My Classes With Connie Have Been Excellent. I Would Even Go So Far As To Say That They Have Exceeded My Expectations.

M. Bush

Thank You So Much, I Really Enjoy My Classes With Joyce I Love Her She Is Very Nice Teacher.

J. Nolaya

Thank you so much for your interpretation service – it has been a blessing to work with you and has been so helpful in a meaningful way!

Current ASL Client

Several months of training with Judith passed very quickly. It was interesting, the atmosphere was great, I will miss our lessons!

Project Management Employee

I Really Enjoyed My Time With Christine, She Is Amazing, As I Told You She Helped Me A Lot Improving My Conversation Skills. The Classes Were Really Dynamics\ And I Never Felt Like I Was In A Strict Class. I Want To Say Thank You Again And I Hope In The Future To Take The Training Again. I Will Recommend Ltc With My Venezuelan And Latin Friends.

F. Inciarte

I would like to commend Catherine T. for her professionalism. The sessions were always on time and well structured.

French Student

The class was awesome! We Love It. It was an introductory one. We are talking about ourselves to help Cleide understand our expectations. She explained to us a lot of stuff about living in the USA.

Cultural Training Student in Nebraska

The Classes Have Been Great. My Knowledge Has Increased Tenfold, Thanks To My Classes And Personalized Curriculum. The One-On-One Nature Of The Classes Ensures That Learning Is Catered To You.

K. Singh

Thank you both very much for all you do. This translation project will go incredibly far in informing many of our Veterans and their families, on the important facts and information surrounding our current pandemic.

EEO Specialist (Equal Employment Opportunity)

Our ENL (English and a New Language) team refers to her as a superhero and it’s no joke—she is truly amazing! Kitty does so much more than just interpret our conferences. She is someone who understands how school works and who can give us important cultural context, which is incredibly valuable.

Director of Student Services

I’m so grateful to have you interpreting these important and complex issues for our student!

Current ASL Client

Thanks Wendy for all your help! You are a terrific manager. What a difference between my GLobal LT experience and working with you!!


I Wanted To Take The Time To Thank You For Your Amazing Services, Both Tom And Hayley Were Tremendous Help Onsite And Even Prepping For It. Looking Forward To Doing Business With You Guys In The Future.

D. Henriquez

I can say only that Ruth is an amazing teacher. I am absolutely satisfied with our classes. Thank you so much for your attention.

Language Training Student

This Year Went Very Well. The Interpreters Were There On Time Every Day And Very Helpful To Catherine. I Did Not Have To Think Twice About Their Service. Thank You.

C. Carol