OSHA Technical Translation Services

Technical Translation of Workplace Safety Instructions

We’ve blogged in the past about the role that legal translation services to help employers refrain from language discrimination in the workplace. In a similar vein, employers should be mindful of their duty to train their employees in a manner and in a language that their employees can comprehend. Likewise, both employers and manufacturers of machinery should ensure that individuals who do not speak or understand English are able to comprehend hazard communication, safety instructions and safety warnings or else face the possibility of expensive litigation.That’s where the need for professional technical translation services comes in.

In Salinas v. Amteck of Kentucky, two of the plaintiffs were injured and one was killed while working on a construction project at a winery warehouse. The workers had been using a scissor lift when it suddenly tipped over. The plaintiffs filed suit alleging claims of strict product liability, defective design, failure to warn, and negligence against the manufacturer of the scissor lift. The scissor lift manufacturer (“manufacturer”) filed a motion for summary judgment in response to the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiffs did not dispute the majority of the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment and the court granted the motion as to plaintiff’s claims for negligence in manufacturing or design.

As to the plaintiff’s claim against the manufacturer that did remain- plaintiff’s claim for failure to warn about load limits and the possibly of tip-overs- the manufacturer argued that this claim should be dismissed because it had warned its users about the load limits and the fact that tip-overs could be deadly. Specifically, the manufacturer claimed that it had provided numerous clear, and urgent warnings. It submitted testimony from an expert witness, a professional engineer, who examined the scissor lift and concluded that the decals on the lift involved in the accident depicted warnings about overloading and indicated that the allowable horizontal force was 100 pounds. The expert also asserted that the plaintiffs failed to adhere to the safety warnings and that the scissor lift had been used improperly.

In contrast to the manufacturer’s expert witness, the plaintiff’s expert witness, a safety engineer, opined that the manufacturer’s warning decal was inadequate. The plaintiff’s expert took issue with the fact that the warning decal failed to clearly and adequately warn users about the risk of a tip-over. Specifically, the expert stated the pictogram was “not clear in conveying the warning against horizontal forces that may result in a tip-over, nor does it contain a printed message to explain or convey the meaning and intent of this warning.” The expert further stated that a pictogram could be created for workers who did not speak English and for those individuals in the workforce who did not understand the difference between horizontal and vertical. As to this point, the plaintiff’s expert opined that the warnings about the “side pull” should have been accompanied by a pictogram to make the warning completely clear “for those not proficient in the English language.”

In response to the evidentiary opinions of the plaintiff’s expert, the defendants moved the court to disregard the expert’s testimony on the grounds that the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified to render opinions on warning labels and that his hypotheses were not generally accepted in the scientific community. The court gave the plaintiffs an opportunity to responds to the defendants’ motion to disqualify the plaintiff’s expert, but the plaintiffs failed to file a response. After considering the issue, the court agreed with the defendants that the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert was not reliable. The court held that although the plaintiff’s expert was qualified to be a workplace safety expert, there was no evidence to suggest that he was a “warnings” expert or a licensed engineer or that he was otherwise qualified to provide opinions on the formulation or design of warning and safety labels. In addition, the court noted that the plaintiff’s expert had never testified as a “warnings” expert for any other case. Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiffs had failed to provide sufficient evidence to create a triable issue of fact as to whether or not manufacturer’s allegedly defective warnings were a substantial factor in causing the accident. The court granted the defendant manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims against it. The case is: Salinas v. Amteck of Kentucky, Inc., 682 F.Supp. 1022 (N.D. Cal. 2010).

Technical Translation of OSHA Regulations for Non-English Speaking Employees

While the manufacturer in the case discussed above was able to avoid legal liability as to its warning label, this is not always the case when it comes to employers, particularly when non-English speaking employees are involved. OSHA regulations are designed to protect the safety and well-being of such non-English speaking workers.

On April 28, 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) released a statement in which it reiterated OSHA’s policy that “employee training required by OSHA standards must be presented in a manner that employees can understand…” According to the statement, this means that if an employee cannot speak or comprehend English, then the employer must provide the employee with safety instruction in a language that the employee can understand.

In other words, according to OSHA, an employer must communicate safety warnings and instructions to the employee in the same manner in which the employer typically communicates with the employee. Thus, it may be necessary, for employers to obtain the assistance of a certified translation company like All Language Alliance, Inc. in order to satisfy the OSHA training requirements and regulations. Given the elevated risks involved with operating certain types of equipment and heavy machinery, in particular, we recommend that employers and manufacturers alike invest in having all of the pertinent hazard communication and safety information translated into the workers’ native languages. The cost of technical translating services to ensure workers’ safety is very minor when compared to the risk associated with failing to do so. Our technical documentation translation company is prepared to assist with interpreting OSHA safety training and translating safety information, including Environment, Health and Safety (EHS); Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) compliance documents, into any language, including, but not limited to: Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, Cantonese, Burmese, Bosnian, Mandarin Chinese, Amharic, Polish, and many more.

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*This legal translation blog article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.


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