Team leaders in the construction industry need to work hard to ensure non-native English speaking workers fully understand the health and safety briefings they receive.
So says Gaëlle Bardsley, a QHSE Advisor with Jackson Civil Engineering, who believes the issue is not just important for worksite safety but also for companies committed to the Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) initiative for the sector.
A French national who moved to the UK 20 years ago, Gaëlle knows how difficult it can be for people to fully understand site inductions when they have recently arrived in the country or don’t speak English perfectly.
“I’ve attended a lot of site inductions - and for many years I never understood much,” she said. “I was looked after by some really caring people but there were some days that were incredibly tough.”
Gaëlle added: “I never told anyone I didn’t understand. It’s even more difficult to say you don’t understand when you are an immigrant on a zero hours contract because they know if they disappoint they will not be called to work the next day.”
Gaëlle's comments came during a company-wide webinar on inductions – part of Jackson’s ongoing series of talks on QHSE subjects.
Get the message across
According to the most recent Labour Force Survey from the Government’s Office for National Statistics, in 2018 10% of the UK construction workforce were from overseas (7% from an EU country).
And with foreign workers reluctant to admit a gap in their understanding, employers must change their approach to make sure induction messages have been digested, said Gaëlle.
Keeping messages simple and discussing key points straight after an induction is one way to check important messages have been understood. Team leaders can also follow up with open questions that avoid yes and no answers, or ask people to repeat or summarise. Role play and the use of diagrams and pictures to get messages across are better than showing people a long list of text, according to Gaëlle, who says team managers should avoid certain expressions.
Common sayings such as ‘spanner in the works’, ‘hit the roof’ and ‘talking to a brick wall’ can easily confuse non-native English speakers on a building site.
The prize for companies who adapt in this way is they will be able to retain a more diverse workforce with a broader range of skills and outlooks.
Gaëlle added: “There is a lot of research to show diverse companies are more innovative and profitable, and inclusive workplaces are safer – it is important we continue to talk about inclusivity all the time.”