Using Translation and Interpreters to Protect Your Essential Workforce

The COVID-19 crisis puts many employers, from hospitals to warehouses, in an unprecedented situation: They not only need to protect their own employees, they have the added concern that a safety breach could carry danger to others far beyond their organization. There’s also the fact that workers or providers are now at risk from simply interacting with customers!

When your workplace is multilingual, it adds a layer of difficulty to safety compliance. Let’s review some ways to keep your staff and customers safe with the right translation and interpretation practices.

Recommit to a Safety-First Ethic
When we say “recommit,” we don’t mean you’ve let your commitment to safety lapse. But now is a good time to examine your safety programs and remind all members of your team there is absolutely no substitute for a “safety first” mindset.

Perform a Comprehensive Review of Your Site and Workflows
Consider where and how exposure to COVID-19 might occur during the typical daily activities at your site, and where signage is needed. As you conduct your review, be on the lookout for items that should have bilingual labeling—equipment controls, warning signs, area designations, etc.—and ensure they are properly labeled.

Don’t Forget Customer-Related Vulnerabilities
Even if your workforce is 100% English-speaking, consider the interactions your employees have with customers. What spaces do they enter, what hazards might they encounter, who do they interact with and how? What ways might they transmit or be exposed to COVID-19 while they are there? If your workers are encountering the public offsite (say, in a home service business), is there adequate communication to protect everyone? What languages does your customer base speak?

Once you’ve conducted this review, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Prepare Materials and Briefings
Reviewing each potential vulnerability, consider whether a written communication or a briefing will be necessary to advise workers and customers. In some cases, simple signage changes or a policy memo translated into the necessary languages will be all you need. In others, you may find you need to translate an entire employee manual and safety documentation. Make sure that you are working with language companies that offer Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools. This will ensure continuity throughout your content and that any updates are quick, easy, and cost-effective.

Keep in mind that although you want to conduct a relatively quick check for vulnerabilities, now may be the time to examine all your safety materials and secure expert translation to cover any gap.

If you believe a problem needs to be addressed immediately, and/or in a forum where your team can ask questions, set up a briefing with the assistance of an interpreter. The interpreter’s role is to facilitate communication, so they remain impartial. Using a professional interpreter instead of a bilingual coworker will allow your staff with limited English proficiency to feel more at ease and discuss matters openly.

Until the COVID emergency ends, the best way to do this is through VRI, or video remote interpreting, in a room set up for video communication. However, there are options using portable video equipment or telephone interpretation, which may both be better from a social distancing standpoint. We’ve even put together a guide to the best ways to use these methods.

Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Make sure that you are observing ADA compliance while communicating any new procedures. Don’t forget to include your deaf or hard of hearing employees (or any other employee who needs special accommodations) at all times. Hiring an American Sign Language interpreter who is a good language match for your staff is especially important for effective communication. .

It is also important that the rest of your team understand how to work with interpreters. Make sure you have ample communication with your language company and ask if they offer any information on how to work with interpreters