It’s an OSHA requirement that we conduct safety training in a manner to ensure that all employees understand.

How important is it that we understand each other? Let me tell you this, good communication is essential in our work, especially during training. I will share with you how to overcome language barriers in safety training.

When the safety leaders and the employee fail to follow particular rules, mistakes are easy to make, and language barriers can generate additional issues, such as confusing or inconsistent instructions and information given to employees.

Not every situation is the same, and you may need to try different techniques to get the best result. But I have seven ideas for you.

In today’s episode, I will give you solid tips to make sure that you are meeting the goals of safety training, regardless of an employee’s native language.


  1. Find somebody who does speak their language. It can be either their relatives at work or co-workers. Then you can figure out if you’re going to train them or as a translator.
  2. Find a good translation service like Upwork and Fiverr. Another one is to go to the local college and use them to translate.
  3. Speaking of local colleges, can you use a student or an intern? Remember, it doesn’t and shouldn’t be only you doing the training, and you can also hire a student for this. You can train a college student, and if they speak the language, that solves your problem.
  4. Ditch the written materials and go hands-on for the training. And video them for documentation.
  5. Increase observations on these employees to further verify their understanding.
  6. Create powerpoints that run like videos in their language. You can make this on Upwork of Fiverr.
  7. Offer language classes for employees to speak English or supervisor to learn their language.

These ideas may be helpful but always remember that the overall goal of safety training is not your checkmark. It’s not to protect yourself against OSHA or not to protect yourself against regulations. The goal of safety training is to get them to do the job the right way. Even when you’re not looking, that is the goal of safety training.

Take Action

Where do you think you should start to solve these language barriers? I want you to try each of these seven ideas that I shared. Highlight what works best! And do more of that.  This trial and error method will help you identify that best method for your workplace.

56 - Overcoming Language Barriers

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] Well, Hey there! Now, as you probably know, OSHA requires that employers conduct training in a language that the employee understands and to verify that they understood the training. But today I want to talk about how you handle it, when you don't speak their language. So let's come up with some ideas on how you can meet these requirements.

Let's get to it. This is Safety Brye, your number one safety geek. Why do we have the behaviors that we do superheroes in the workplace? Right? All of those things that go into making you an effective safety manager. I love what we do motivation learning, teaching, training, teamwork, geek out over there. Just as much as I can safety.

Well, Hello! Hello! Hello. My safety friends and welcome to the safety geek

[00:01:00] podcast. My name is Brye and I have been a dedicated safety professional for 20 years, plus an additional six years where it was just part of my job. And in that experience, I have had to train in workplaces with five different languages.

Even though it was a hassle. I believe that it is so worth the effort to train these workers. And not because we are required to by the regulations. No. And not because it is the right thing to do as a kind and helpful human being of course. But the reason why I think it is worth the. Is that diversity makes a company stronger.

It makes a company more profitable and more secure. So whatever you can do as a safety professional to help your company. Becomes stronger, more profitable, then you need to do

[00:02:00] it. And that includes training in multiple languages or dealing with the issue of having workers that don't speak the same language with you and addressing these issues right up front.

Now, before we get started, I just want to check in with you, how are you guys doing what has been going on? In your world. I would love to hear from you, make sure that you reach out to me at, in the community, at And let me know, what are you struggling with? What are your wins this week?

What has been going on now, before I get into this topic today, I want to share one event that is going on in the safety geek community. Right now. Well, not right now. It starts next week, but you can sign up for it right now. So pause this podcast. Yes. I'm telling you to pause you and come back to it. Pause and go to

[00:03:00] I am hosting a free five day challenge to teach you how to do a safety program self-evaluation. And you might be thinking, what is that? Well, we all deal with the chance of a spot inspection. Some of us have to deal with third-party audits, depending upon who our customers are. Some of us have to deal with corporate regional managers who come and inspect us.

And some of us have to deal with a third party audits as a requirement of either our customers or our corporate office. All of those things are other people looking at your program and telling you what you can improve upon it. But most of the time when we're going through these, we are just like crossing our fingers and hoping to God, they don't find what we know is wrong with it.

Right. So what a self evaluation is is it's you doing it yourself?

[00:04:00] It's you taking a critical look at your own work at your own program and asking the tough questions? Like, is it working. Is it not working? Is this worth our time? What are the results we're getting? What is the benefit of doing this? How

can I make it just 1% better, 2% better. So I have a process. I actually started doing self evaluations when I got into VPP, because it's actually a requirement for VPP that you do an annual self-evaluation a very comprehensive one. So I've created a process for it. It's a five-step process. I'll be going through that in the free

challenge. So the way the challenge works is you sign up by going to the safety forward slash evaluation. You'll get yourself a nice little welcome packet and guide and tell you what you need to get started. And then on day one on January

[00:05:00] 17th, I will be posting a video inside the community and I'll be emailing you.

Action steps for that day. And that will do that every day during the week. And you will slowly learn the process of a self evaluation, and we're going to end the week with a masterclass on how to use this process to turn your program into a continuous improvement machine. So make sure you sign up. It's a safety forward slash evaluation pauses right now and go do it.

Cause you do not want to miss out on this. Okay. Are you back on back? Are you back? Are you ready to talk about all the different languages in our workplaces and how to deal with it? Okay. So this question actually came from Paul. I really hope Paul is no longer struggling with this. And he figured out his answer because I had been a crappy podcast host and he posted this question way back in September

[00:06:00] before all of my two stroma.And I never got around to answering it. So first off, I want to thank Paul for reaching out and sharing this topic. And if you have an idea for a topic like Paul, just know that I'm committed to putting out a podcast every single week, and I will no longer make you wait four months for an answer. Unless I get a whole bunch of topics and it just takes me four months to get to your answer.

But anyway, go to the community. And in the featured section, there is a post that says something about like, do you have an idea for a podcast topic? Just put a comment there. I will get a notification. I will add it to my list. I'm slowly working through the questions that have come in. So if you have a question, make sure you post it in the meantime.

Thank you very much, Paul, for your patience. And I apologize. Alrighty. So let's start with. The OSHA requirement. So what the OSHA requirements are is that the employer must inform and train employees in a language, which is comprehensible in order to

[00:07:00] satisfy the requirements of the regulations. And there is a letter of interpretation, and I will share this with you.

And in this letter, States that many OSHA standards require that employees receive training. So that work will be performed in a safe and healthful manner. Some of the standards require training, quote unquote, or instruction, quote unquote, others require adequate quote unquote. I do. I have to keep saying that or effective training or instruction and still others require training,

that in a manner or in a language that is understandable to the employees. It is the agency's position that regardless of the purse sys language in the regulation, the terms, train and instruct as whether, as well as other synonyms mean to present information in a manner

[00:08:00] that employees receiving it are capable of understanding it. Okay. So before I get onto the tricky part, let me give you a couple of caveats here. First one is DOT actually has a requirement that CDL drivers understand and speak basic English enough that they can communicate effectively with officers. So instead of making the officers become

multilingual, what is that called poly something or another? My uncle is at, he speaks like eight languages anyway. So instead of requiring officers to be like that, they just require this CDL driver to be able to speak English, which in most non English speaking countries, I know they do teach English.

Now I'm starting at a very young age. Not thinking that would be too much of a hardship unless you're talking about an older person. Um, I remember this is a total caveat. I was in

[00:09:00] Costa Rica a couple of years ago. And my tour director is telling me like, they start teaching English and like elementary school.

Now he goes, so when you talk to a young person, And Costa Rica, they can speak English, but if you talk to somebody who's like 30 or 40 or older, they don't necessarily speak English. I thought that was interesting. And, uh, anyway, another caveat. And a lot of people think this is a requirement, but it's not, there are no requirements that your policies, your SOP's your safety data sheets, that they be in a specific language.

There is no requirement that if you have Spanish speaking employees or Burmese speaking employees, I've had to deal with that too, that you translate your policies or SDSs or anything into English. So no that a lot of people have that wrong where they're thinking that, oh, no, I have to have SDS as in Spanish because I have Spanish speaking employees.No. Now if the company

[00:10:00] offers it in, in the language of your employees and heck yes, I would offer it. Okay. But here's the tricky part. Remember that the rules are that the employee receiving the training has to be capable of understanding it. People who do not speak your language. And they are trying to communicate with you.

So it's a, you're an English speaker and your worker is a Spanish speaker. They will fake understanding because of fear of losing their job. They will fake that. They understand what you are telling them. They will just shake their head and say, yes, I get it for fear of losing their job. And I want to put, I want you to put yourself.

In their shoes. So let's say that you were hired for a job in a country where you do not speak the language. You know, a little bit of it, you're learning it. And people are telling you stuff. You are more likely to sit there and just shake your head because you kind of get it

[00:11:00] right. That's what our employees are doing when they don't speak our language.

Another tricky part, they will also sign acknowledgement statements. Saying that they understand the training and had the opportunity to ask questions, even when they can't read it, they'll just sign the paper. Think of how many times we just kind of agree to all those crazy, uh, electronic terms of agreement.

That's what they're doing too. And then an accident happens and that person gets severely injured and you get hit with a training violation. Or worse the accident happened because they didn't understand the training. So you have to be sure that your non-native speakers understand the training. And remember the goal of safety training.

The overall goal is safety training is not your check mark. It's not to protect yourself against OSHA. It's not to protect yourself against

[00:12:00] regulations. The goal of safety training is getting them to do the job the right way. Following your SOP is your JSHS your everything. Even when you're not looking, that is the goal of safety training.

Follow the policies when I'm not there. It's not, let me get my check, mark. You sign the acknowledgement. I'm not going to get a hundred. And what is it? This year? 130, some thousand dollar fine. Right. So when you're developing your training for people that don't speak your language, you have to start thinking outside the box, you know, sitting through a PowerPoint presentation or a video is not the only way to train in an employee.

The rules allow for creative training. So let's talk about a few ways that you can accomplish this, assuming that you don't speak their language. Which I have been in that position for many times I had, um, I don't speak

[00:13:00] any other language. I kind of understand Spanish because I've taken it multiple times, but I've had to train Vietnamese people, people that were from Burma, people that were from Haiti and they spoke, oh gosh, her accent was so awesome.

She spoke like a French Creole. Which was really cool. And then Spanish, because that is like the second major language in the United States. Okay. So number one, as you're thinking outside the box, the first step is to find somebody who does speak their language. Maybe they have a family member who also speaks English.

Maybe there's somebody else within the workplace who speaks the French Creole, but then also speaks very good English. Find those people. And then figure out, can they train them? Can they, can you train them to be a trainer? Can you use them to translate? I like it better if I train them to be a trainer. And so that way they're

[00:14:00] more in depth about it. I've used the translation and it just gets very choppy. Because what'll happen is all be in a room I'll be training and I'll have to constantly pause after every sentence for the translator to translate. So it's much easier if I can just train the translator.

To be a trainer. I mean, we train supervisors all the time to be trainers and then have them go and do the training. So if you're certifying them as a trainer or you're observing their training and you know that they can do it well in English than you, and they speak this other language that helps.

Another idea out of the box is to find a good translation service. Now I'm going to pop links for Upwork and Fiverr in the show notes where this podcast is posted. Um, another idea is to go to the local college. So location I had that had a lot of Burmese employees. They were actually in Toledo, Ohio,

[00:15:00] and the local college had translator. And we use them to translate. Everything that we put out. So that way, when we were posting something, when we were doing handouts, everything was posted in English and Burmese it's yes, it does cost money, but like I said, it's worth it because it makes your company stronger and more profitable. Right.

Number three, speaking of local colleges, can you use a student or an intern? Now a lot of local colleges, they have a requirement that they do a service learning project. Maybe you can be their Guinea pig for their service learning project. Reach out to the language instructors and tell them what you need and see if they can recommend you for a community service project, or maybe they can recommend students that you can hire for.

I have a college student. My son is a college student. He's always looking for unique ways to make

[00:16:00] extra money that don't require, you know, a set schedule. Because his class has changed so often in study groups and things like that. So students are always looking for those little side gigs that they can help you out with.

And remember it doesn't and shouldn't have to be only you doing the training. Now that's a whole nother discussion about the fact that you shouldn't be doing all the training. But you have to let go of the fact that it's like, no, I'm the, I'm the safety professional. I have to do the training. No, you can train somebody else to train.

You can train a college student to train on this and if they speak the language that solves your problem. All right. And number four, ditch the written materials. I know, kind of sounds weird. Doesn't it? Go hands-on for the training. So this is what I did for my Vietnamese employee, because we only had one and we had one person who was a family member that could translate,

[00:17:00] but she was an older worker. She didn't really understand too well anyway. Hands-on training, just worked amazing for her. We took the concept and we translated like out in the field. If I'm training on bloodborne pathogens, let's say I took her translator and just her and I and the translator and we reviewed the. Hands-on and I knew that she understood it and I could, um, I can video them doing it.

So that way I had documentation that they understood it and that they did it. And then I just use the translator for signing documents. So that way, if I wanted a signature that, Hey, you did this, um, the translate and I would have the translator sign, the document as well. And I would say it was translated by this person and they would sign it.

So that's another idea. Number five, increase your observations on these employees. I've always said that written

[00:18:00] documentation of training, like having them take a quiz, or I acknowledge that I've had the opportunity to answer questions. It's such a waste. Those two things are just your track mark for regulation.

It's not going back to the goal of safety training because the goal of safety training is what. It's to get them to follow the policies when you are not looking one of the best ways to make sure that they understood the training and that they are following the policies is by doing observations. So maybe for my people that are not sure if they understood the training, I'm going to double up their observations to further verify that they understood the training.

Now, another idea is that you create PowerPoints. That run like a video. You can actually create a PowerPoint that automatically forwards slides that you can even add voice to. So if somebody is like reading it in a, in a translation, so that

[00:19:00] way you're creating these personalized trainings in their language. So the way I would do this is I would create a PowerPoint for my English speakers and in the notes section of the PowerPoint, I would put exactly what I would say for each slide. I would send that PowerPoint to a translation service Upwork, something like that. Right. I actually had a translator in, in Chile or maybe the Philippines.

I can't remember. I had a translation service that charged me like very little, very, very little, but anyway, I would send it to them for translation. It will come back to me. And then I would take my translator who worked in the, in the organization and I would have them read it. I would record them reading it, and then I would apply it to the PowerPoint.

And then I would just have that PowerPoint run automatically for my employee. And then number seven is very unique and you can't really force this one, but I think it's a very good thing to offer. And that is to offer language

[00:20:00] classes, you know? So for your employees who don't speak English, Offer them to take English classes and the company pays for it or buy Rosetta stone for them or something like that.

And for your supervisors offer to pay for language classes for them to learn the language of their employees. I mean, if you have a supervisor who takes initiative enough to learn Burmese or Vietnamese or French Creole or Spanish, you know, on their own time and you're paying for it, that is a supervisor you're going to have a for a very long time is definitely going to add value to the company.

And I'll tell you what we did. This was years ago, I'm talking 12 years ago. I convinced my boss that this was a problem. And what we did is we bought Rosetta stone and we installed it on one computer in the workplace. And then we

[00:21:00] incentivized the supervisors to take the lesson. And I could like see who was signed in and all of that, that type of thing.

And now it really didn't work out. I would love to tell you that it was an amazing results because people have to continue to want to learn. Right. But. It was a great thing to offer. And I know that out of my 15 supervisors, one or two of them got a lot out of it. So, and I believe they're still with the company today.

So anyway, those are my ideas for thinking outside the box. When you don't speak the same language as your employee. Now, the key to this process is to verify, understand. Of the SOPs. So whenever you're hiring someone who doesn't speak the common language of the company, then plan ahead to spend extra time training them. That's all it is. So you should have a process with your HR departments.

[00:22:00] Like if you're hiring somebody who doesn't speak a common language that we have. I need to figure out how to train them and I'm going to need time to do that. It should never be a question of we're not going to hire them because of the.

It should just be, we need some extra time to train them because once again, diversity makes everything better. Alrighty. My safety friends, that is what I have for you today. Remember to sign up for the five day challenge. It is going to be amazing. You're going to get so much out of it. You would literally walk away from this five day challenge.

With a list of whatever your gaps or focus areas or areas of improvement that you need to make. And in the masterclass is going to tell you how to make a plan for them for the upcoming year. So I got you. It's going to be a lot of fun. The safety forward. Evaluation. I'll put a link in the show notes.

In the meantime, you have an amazing day and I will chat with you

[00:23:00] next week. Bye. For now.

You can check out the show notes and links for this week's If you like this podcast, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast app. There are occasional bonus episodes that I don't always advertise, and you won't want to miss them one more favor, leave a review on. Too. It helps others find the show.

Thanks. I really appreciate it. And I can't wait to talk to you next week.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • Importance of Understanding Language to Safety Training
  • How to Solve Language Barriers at Work
  • Overall Goal of Safety Training
  • Think Out of The Box Ideas
  • Better Communication for Safety Leaders and Employees
  • Ensuring Safety Training is Understand


So how do you handle workplaces with multiple languages or when you or the trainer don’t speak the employee’s language? Please share your experiences in the comments and how you solve this. It may be a big help to our community.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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