EDITORIAL

Managing workplace safety in diverse and inclusive settings

Diversity in the workplace: benefits and best practices

April 2021 | Food and Beverage

BY VICKIE KILGORE

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

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Immigrants are expected to make up roughly 23% of working-age adults in the United States by 2050

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Latino immigrants to the United States have a workplace fatality rate of 5.9 per 100,000 — nearly 50% higher than the rate for all other workers in the nation

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that language barriers are a contributing factor in 25% of job-related accidents

workers in a lettuce field

The growing diverse and inclusive workforce


Like the country itself, the U.S. workforce is becoming more diverse and continues to be composed of employees from a variety of cultural backgrounds. One study from the Pew Research Center estimates that immigrants will make up roughly 23% of working-age adults in the United States by 2050.1 The majority of these workers are expected to come from Latin America, and by 2050, the U.S. could have the highest number of Spanish speakers in the world.2


For businesses, a multilingual workplace can have several unique benefits. For one, attracting and retaining candidates who speak different languages is a smart growth strategy for global-minded organizations. This is especially important for organizations in the manufacturing industry, which continues to be a cornerstone of the U.S. economy and is likely to see continued growth.


Additionally, tapping into a more diverse pool of candidates can help with recruiting practices, which is especially important given labor shortages. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 7.6 million unfilled jobs in the United States as of January 2019.3 It’s estimated that, between now and 2050, immigrants from all regions of the globe will make up 83% of the growth in the working-age population of the United States.4 Businesses that don’t take advantage of this growing pipeline of candidates may struggle to fill open positions.


However, managing a multilingual workforce isn’t without its share of challenges — particularly when it comes to workplace safety. This article will examine workplace safety issues related to multilingual workforces and highlight best practices that businesses should consider to help them better manage a diverse employee base.

Workplace safety concerns in diverse settings


Providing clear and concise communication around safety policies and procedures is not only recommended, it’s essential to maintaining a safe workplace. However, when a diverse, multilingual workforce is involved, effectively communicating safety information can be difficult.


When arriving in the United States, many immigrants take jobs in unfamiliar industries. These industries are often safety-sensitive (e.g., manufacturing or construction), necessitating clear and concise workplace safety training. However, immigrant workers frequently report not receiving any safety training on the job. Even when they do, training can be of poor quality, particularly if employers overlook cultural and language differences.5


In a multilingual workplace, language and cultural barriers can contribute to miscommunication as well as on-the-job accidents and injuries. This is apparent when you consider that Latino immigrants to the United States have a workplace fatality rate of 5.9 per 100,000 — nearly 50% higher than the rate for all workers in the nation.6 Furthermore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that language barriers are a contributing factor in 25% of job-related accidents.7


Employees who don’t speak English may hesitate to ask for help when they are confused about safety communication. Even if an employee has strong conversational English skills, specialized terminology around safety hazards (e.g., chemical, machinery or biological hazards) may not have an obvious equivalent in other languages.8


Put another way, key information on workplace health and safety provided in safety meetings and written instructions may get lost in translation. This opens businesses up to a slew of health and wellness exposures, which could lead to injuries, deaths, fines and litigation.


piechart

OSHA estimates that language barriers are a contributing factor in
25%
of job-related accidents.7

Safeguarding multilingual workforces


Every employer with a multilingual workforce should take steps to bridge cultural gaps and ensure workplace safety. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, the following best practices can help businesses of all sizes address the challenges of managing a diverse and inclusive workforce.


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Continued workplace safety


When it comes to managing a multilingual workforce, every business is different and will have its own set of unique needs to keep in mind. Still, to address safety and other issues, employers — and the insurance agents who advise them — need to have a sense of the greatest exposures related to managing multilingual workers.


Employers must have a grasp on the cultural and language barriers that prevent employees from getting the tools they need to stay safe on the job. With that understanding, it’s simply a matter of securing the right resources and executing a top-down approach to safeguarding multilingual workers.


key takeaway light bulb icon

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Like the country itself, the U.S. workforce is becoming more diverse and continues to be composed of employees from a variety of cultural backgrounds

Attracting and retaining candidates who speak different languages is a smart growth strategy for global-minded organizations

However, managing a multilingual workforce isn’t without its share of challenges, particularly when it comes to workplace safety

TAKE THE NEXT STEP


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about the expert

Vickie Kilgore, Senior Risk Management Consultant for Loss Control Services

Vickie Kilgore

Vickie has worked in the insurance industry for the past 18 years in various roles, including as an Occupational Health Nurse, Workers' Compensation Claims Manager, and in Risk Management as a Workers' Compensation/Health and Safety subject matter expert. Prior to Nationwide, Vickie was employed ...with a large manufacturing company as a Senior Occupational Health Nurse Specialist/Safety Consultant.

Vickie has a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the Nebraska Methodist College and a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Nebraska with a specialty in nursing informatics. She is also Certified as an Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist and Case Manager through the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses.

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