Migrant workers at risk because of poor health and safety training warns watchdog

Many employers are risking migrant workers’ wellbeing by not providing adequate health and safety training warned the Institute of Occupational Health and safety (IOSH).

It said many non-English speaking migrant workers are especially at risk as H&S training is usually delivered in English. IOSH recently conducted a pilot study into how H&S training is delivered to migrant workers in the food processing sector.

Half of the 26 companies polled admitted their H&S training did not address how non-English speaking workers were informed, instructed or trained in H&S issues and practices.

“The evidence from the food and drink sector is that too many employers are taking risks with their migrant workers by not offering proper training in H&S issues,” said IOSH policy and technical director Richard Jones.”Within this sector only 42% of employers provide English lessons to staff.”

The research found that 85% of respondents employed staff from ethnic minorities while 70% recruited Central and Eastern Europeans, mostly through agencies. The main foreign language spoken is Polish.

Some 46% of employers surveyed said they provided H&S training to non-English speakers in a lanuage they understood, 42% laid on English lessons for foreign staff while just over half of companies polled used interpreters in the workplace.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said language barriers were a problem and a quarter said accidents could have been avoided if language had not been a barrier to communications on H&S issues.

The Health and Safety at Work Act stipulates that all workers must get adequate H&S training even if they work in the black economy. “Migrant workers are entitled to the same protection as other workers regardless of whether or not they work illegally,” said Jones. “We are very concerned about cost-cutting employers who are gambling with the lives of their workers.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive 10 migrant workers suffered fatal accidents at work in the period April 2006 to March 2007 – there were 241 such deaths in total. It said: “This suggests a fatal accident rate slightly below that for all workers.”

But IOSH president Ray Hurst also wants the Gangmasters Licensing Agency (GLA) to “heed our warning” and “to better protect migrant workers in the workplace.”

The GLA said licensed gangmasters – who supply much of the casual migrant workforce to the food processing industry – must provide adequate H&S training “in a language that the worker can understand and appropriate to the sites they are working and the work they have been employed to do.”

If gangmasters breach this stipulation they are warned they must rectify it within a given time or they lose their licences. The GLA licenses 1,159 gangmasters. Since the scheme started in 2006 47 gangmasters have had their licences revoked, six of them for failing to meet H&S training standards.

In all, said the GLA, since 2006 90 gangmasters have failed to meet the required H&S training standard. Some addressed the issue, some are still addressing it and some were refused a licence. It is an offence for gangmasters to operate without a licence.

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