Weekly dilemma…

Q I am the manager of a medium-sized hotel in London and employ a growing number of foreign workers from Eastern Europe. I am concerned that they may not fully understand the health and safety training we provide. Should their training be different to other staff, and do we need to hire a translator to ensure they understand all procedures?

A While the employment of workers from outside the UK has many benefits, it also requires reconsideration of health and safety training.

In respect of all staff employed, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and subsequent regulations require employers to warn, train and inform all employees of potential risks and how and when to report problems with their health. Employers are also required to assess all risks to health, taking into account the abilities of all workers, including age and language difficulties.

Employers need to ensure the health and safety of all staff – whatever their nationality – and ensure that their internal policies do not discriminate on the grounds of race.

It is not enough to assume that providing training in English will satisfy your statutory obligations. The duty to train requires not only a comprehensive explanation of the risks and preventative measures in ordinary language, but also some appraisal as to whether each member of staff has actually understood the instruction and training. This is not to say that every instruction has to be translated into each different language (which may in itself be impractical due to translation difficulties), provided it can be shown that appropriate training has been given and understood.

Written policies and training documents are preferable where possible and in a form that can be universally understood, such as pictorial aids. Ensure you get written confirmation from staff that they have received and understood the training, and carry out continuous appraisals and refresher training. In extreme cases, interpreters or translation of documents may have to be considered to ensure effective training, reporting of problems or medical assessment.

Don’t assume anything in respect of the health and safety capabilities of your staff. Without correctly worded health and safety policies, which are understood and followed by all employees, companies risk potentially fatal accidents or allegations of race discrimination.

Peter Forshaw, partner, Weightmans

Each week we ask the experts to answer your legal dilemmas. If you have a legal question or dilemma, e-mail dawn.spalding@rbi.co.uk

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