As countries become more diverse, so does their workforce. This is evident across the United States where according to the Center for American Progress, as of June 2012, thirty six percent of the U.S. labour force comprised people of colour. Therefore, with this increasing diversity, it is important that all employees, including those whose first language is not English, be provided with the necessary information, resources and training, so that they can better understand the risks associated with their jobs and within their workplaces. This will allow them to do their jobs safely. However, creating a culturally and linguistically diverse workplace can be challenging.

What Is a CALD Workplace?

A culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) workplace is one in which some workers’ first or preferred language is not English. As a result, their knowledge of English may be limited. Additionally, a CALD workplace may include:

  • Workplaces where the majority of the workforce speaks a particular language or are from different countries
  • Workplaces where the majority of the workforce have different cultural backgrounds and follow different religions

Challenges Associated With Creating a CALD Workplace

Creating a culturally and linguistically diverse workplace can be challenging. Some of the issues hindering the development and implementation of CALD workplaces include:

  • Linguistic differences, which can be a significant barrier to communicating health and safety information, as well as ensuring safe work practices
  • The assumption that all CALD workers are literate, which is often not the case
  • The differences in attitudes and perceptions of workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in relation to health and safety at work
  • How to tailor information, resources and training to the specific language needs and abilities of CALD workers, so that they can better understand the hazards and risks associated with their jobs and work environments

Employer’s Duties

It is the employer’s duty to provide of information, instruction and training to their workers, so that illness and injury resulting from a lack of awareness, knowledge or understanding of workplace hazards and risks can be prevented. Therefore, employers must:

  • Make information, instruction and training available to CALD workers in languages other than English where needed
  • Be aware of any language and cultural barriers that may impact communication within the organization
  • Take the appropriate steps to address identified language and cultural barriers

5 Steps to Achieve a CALD Workplace

Employers must be aware of the language preferences of their workers so that workplace health and safety can be communicated in ways that everyone understands. Here are five simple steps that any employer can take to overcome communication barriers in CALD workplaces.

1. Know Your Workforce

  • Consult: Identify the range of languages spoken in the workplace and determine workers’ preferred modes and forms of communication. Provisions should be made involving workers who do not speak English when consulting on health and safety topics.
  • Build a language profile: Collect information when inducting new workers to identify workers who are bilingual or workers whose English skills are limited. Additionally, always keep an up-to-date language profile of the workforce.

2. Make a Plan

  • Set out procedures and budget: Determine what information, resources and training CALD workers need.
  • Assess the company’s existing health and safety information: Determine whether or not all workers can easily understand existing procedures.
  • All workers need to be informed about but not limited to: the company's health and safety policy and procedures, hazards in the workplace, safe work processes, injury and incident reporting procedures, emergency and first aid procedures, as well as safety signs and symbols.

3. Communicate for Understanding

  • Use appropriate forms of communication: These include face-to-face discussion and practical demonstrations.
  • Use plain language: Written material should be in clear and simple language, with diagrams and examples.
  • Provide translations: Translate health and safety information, as well as safety signs.
  • Check that CALD workers understand all instructions: Ask CALD workers to repeat a demonstration and/or explain the meaning of safety signs.

4. Provide Language Support

  • Use bilingual staff: Bilingual workers can help to communicate with staff whose English skills are limited.
  • Provide interpreter services: Determine whether or not translation/interpreting is needed and source a provider of these services.

5. Provide Training

  • Provide induction training: Ensure that all workers undertake induction training incorporating general health and safety rights and responsibilities.
  • Provide ongoing training: For small groups of workers, hold individual information and training sessions in their language. For large group of workers hold meetings in the relevant language.
  • Teach common workplace terms: Ensure that all workers are taught terms common to their job role and workplace.
  • Offer English language training: Provide CALD workers with access to information and opportunities for English language training.
  • Train supervisors: Train supervisors and managers in communication techniques and how to understand cultural differences.

A Diverse Workforce, Is a Strong Workforce

Employers that embrace the growing labour force’s changing demographics, reap the economic benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce. One of the biggest advantages of recruiting a diverse workforce is that it brings together workers’ backgrounds, cultures, experiences and skills, which, in turn, fosters and promotes creativity and innovation—traits that are needed to succeed in this competitive economy. Thus, CALD workforces are more productive, and drive economic growth. Therefore, it is important that CALD workplaces place high importance on establishing an ongoing dialogue regarding health and safety at work since it is the most effective way to mitigate occupational hazards and risks. Furthermore, it should not be limited to English-speaking workers only.