In the UK employers have a legal responsibility to provide information, instruction, training and supervision in an understandable format for all workers, irrespective of their national origins, first language or literacy.
An increasingly diverse workforce requires new approaches, not only to improve supervision and training but also to allow such workers to be consulted and voice their concerns, stated the Northwest Food Alliance (NFA), which produced the 19-page guidance.
The industry organisation says there is now increasing, but undocumented, evidence that many workers in the food industry are unable to communicate in English and therefore rely on colleagues whose own language and translation capabilities are untested.
" These language barriers make training difficult, and also prevent communication of urgent concerns on the shop floor," the NFA stated. "There is also evidence of employers being unable to demonstrate, if required, that adequate instruction, training or supervision has taken place in a language that workers can comprehend."
Providing appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision makes good business sense, the NFA stated. Whilst improved communication has an impact on business costs, a significant reduction in the number of accidents is possible if good practice is adopted, helping to reduce the employer's liability insurance premium, and benefiting productivity and profitability.
For example Uniq, which has about 4,700 UK-based employees used a combination of management training and a risk assessment programme to reduce its reportable accident rate to 16 per 1000 employees from 34.2 over a five year period. The result was an 8.5 per cent reduction in Uniq's liability premium.
The guidance outlines procedures and gives practical examples of action which employers can take to ensure that their legal and moral obligations are met. The recommendations should complement existing health and safety management arrangements, the NFA stated.
The key elements identified were managing culture and diversity, effective recruitment to ensure against illegal hiring, the use of risk assessment techniques, induction, training, and supervision.
Food and drink manufacturing is the largest industrial sector in the UK. It employs about 650,000 people, many of whom are overseas nationals from ethnically diverse backgrounds where English is not always widely spoken or understood, the NFA stated.
About 25 per cent of all UK manufacturing injuries occur in the food and drink industry, twice that of the average for all sectors.Overall, the food and drink industry has the second highest injury rate of any sector after mining and quarrying.
Fatal injuries in the UK's food and drink industries have dropped by about 60 per cent and overall injuries by 38 per cent since a programme to reduce work place accidents was launched a decade ago, according tothe Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a government agency.
The guidance document can be downloaded here.