The UK construction industry is to be applauded for the commitment it has made to dramatically improving its health and safety record in recent years.
However, as always in business, there are new challenges that need to be tackled. The increasing use construction workers with no or limited English is one such development, with numbers growing steadily and many coming from countries such as Poland.
Here at RWS Alnwick we were recently reminded of an important study undertaken by Loughborough University on behalf of the Construction Industry Training Board that looked at this challenge. From our perspective we were most interested in comments and recommendations regarding the potential need for and the role of interpreters and translators.
The principal focus for this research was how site managers can best communicate essential health and safety information to non/low English speaking migrant workers and, vice versa, how migrant workers can effectively communicate with English speaking workers and managers about critical health and safety matters.
The Loughborough work was part of a broader project funded by ConstructionSkills, to develop products to support the communication of health and safety knowledge between non/low English speaking construction workers and English speaking site managers. This research analysed migrant worker and manager perspectives, understandings, everyday work practices and variable roles on site qualitatively using a range of ethnographic research methods to investigate how communication successfully takes place between migrant workers, their native co‐workers and managers/supervisors in practice.
These methods produced rich qualitative data offering an in‐depth understanding of how communications actually already happen and of the existing forms of safe working practices that develop on‐site that is not accessible through standard interview and focus group methods.
At RWS, we provide interpreters and translators to help with many practical matters and were delighted to see that among a number of recommendations that included more effective site inductions and language training, was the key role translators and interpreters can play in enabling communication between migrant workers and their indigenous counterparts. The report calls for the official recognition of the practices of translation and interpretation, especially in terms of formalising this role on site. A scheme to assess language translation and interpretation skills would be beneficial both for contractors, to provide a knowledge‐base of the language skills and competencies of migrant workers, and for better acknowledging the skills set and enhancing the career path of migrant workers in construction.
At RWS, we believe there are a number of different ways – including helping to develop improved communications with migrant workers – where our expertise can add value and welcome the opportunity to explain how we can assist companies in the sector.
The full report Migrant construction workers and health & safety communication can be viewed here https://www.citb.co.uk/documents/research/migrant-construction-workers-health-safety-communication_tcm17-25018.pdf