In December 2008 we secured funding from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to deliver a six month project to identify the barriers to communicating with migrant workers and to raise their knowledge of health and safety legislation.
The project aimed to co-ordinate outreach workers with the appropriate language skills to communicate health & safety advice and information to migrant workers on major construction sites in Newham.
A steering group was set up with the HSE, BOVIS, Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), London Borough of Newham (LBN) and new community and training groups identified as already working with these communities, Shpressa and Learning and Skills Solutions (LSS).
In total, 227 workers were surveyed by outreach staff from Shpressa and LSS and they represented twenty-four different nationalities.
The project identified that by far the main barrier to understanding and adhering to health & safety regulations among migrant / foreign workers is language. The language barrier also contributes to reluctance among migrant workers to admit their lack of understanding to the employer. This also holds true in terms of non-reporting of accidents, injuries and perceived health & safety risks.
A second key concern raised by the project is that many of the workers felt un-secure in their employment purely because of their position as migrant/ foreign workers in the UK. This perception of being more at risk of losing their jobs than British workers prevented them from speaking out or raising any concerns to their employers.
The view that health & safety is their own responsibility and accidents or injuries are their own fault was prevalent among the respondents. This is a view based on their previous experiences in lesser-regulated countries.
Given that they consider health and safety regulations to be ‘too stringent’ or ‘too many’ in the UK, it is important for them to be able to gain knowledge and understanding of the rules and the protection they offer when followed. This needs to be done by receiving them in their own language. This is especially important when first arriving in the country before English skills have developed.