Language Barriers Cause Safety Concerns at Cell Tower Sites

With the explosion of work in the wireless industry, there is a shortage in the labor force.  Many contractors are employing various ethnic groups to help offset this demand.   However, when these employees are in the field, do they understand enough English to read the signs posted at sites, able to communicate to the NOC/Foreman/CM or have someone to contact for concerns?  According to an OSHA Memo, training must be presented in a manner that employees can understand, and to provide enforcement guidance.  The safety in our industry has improved with enforcement of certifications to include climbing/rescue/RF awareness/FA-CPR/OSHA 10. To accomplish this, we need to overcome language barriers.

OSHA 1926.503(a)(1) Regulations:

The employer shall provide a training program for each employee who might be exposed to fall hazards. The program shall enable each employee to recognize the hazards of falling and shall train each employee in the procedures to be followed in order to minimize these hazards.

Is this enough? Do we, as an industry, need to include additional training for non-speaking English employees to help with any misunderstandings when at a tower site? OSHA states for safety reasons, “construction employees need to be able to communicate with supervisors and co-workers and met by any system in which that communication could reliably occur; there is no OSHA requirement that the communication system be based on the English language” 04/28/2010, Ben Bare, Acting Director, Directorate of Construction, Letter # 20071001-7893.  OSHA released a publication called Communication Tower Best Practices: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3877.pdf .

It was noted in an EHS magazine that Hispanic workers complained supervisors and co-workers who did not speak Spanish were less willing to explain things to workers with limited English, and as a result they often told the workers to simply skip safety procedures. Due to these findings, cellular corporations, contractors, and training providers need to know we have a language problem in the workplace and when possible provide tower safety training in Spanish to overcome language barriers and ensure the safety of all employees.  Employees need to feel comfortable reporting hazards or asking questions. Bilingual policies and procedure documents should be available, and when possible signs and labels should have bilingual information as well. The wireless industry should be sensitive to the differences among their workers, particularly cultural beliefs that might discourage workers from discussing hazard concerns with their supervisors due to safety concepts not emphasized in their home country or because their native culture discourages employee complaints.