Emergency Response for the Multicultural Work Force

March 20, 2006
Employers must meet the challenge of communicating important emergency information to a multilingual work force that does not speak or read English.

Cultural diversity is emerging as one of the most challenging issues in the workplace today. Yet many employers are not prepared to deal with it, nor are their safety managers. To address the issue, some of our training and emergency response assumptions need to be revisited.

Take, for example, the challenges driven by the language barrier. Traditional approaches to placement of emergency equipment including regulatory requirements have stressed signage to identify the availability of things like fire extinguishers and emergency eyewashes and drench showers. Signage might not be sufficient if the employee in need of the equipment isn't fluent in English.

So, how does a concerned employer respond? The first step is to recognize the potential for language-related communications problems in your operation. There are several basic issues, driven by ANSI Z358.1 guidelines, that can have an impact on language-restricted employee safety:

Well-lit emergency response areas Per ANSI, the areas designated for the placement of emergency eyewashes and drench showers must be well-lit, minimizing the possibility of being overlooked during an emergency.

Access to emergency equipment Emergency equipment must be located within a 10-second walk from any potential accident site and it must be on the same level, with no physical barriers for the injured employee to traverse.

Training on the use of emergency equipment Perhaps the most critical element of preparation for emergencies in a multicultural work environment is the training of employees. Drilling the team on the steps to be taken in an emergency is the best insurance that they will know what to do when it's no longer a drill. Lighting, access and training can help to minimize the impact of language barriers in an emergency.

The use of colors to designate emergency equipment locations In many instances and this is one of them color can be used as the universal language. ANSI Standard Z535.1 establishes standardized safety color codes for industrial purposes, while ANSI Standard Z535.2 establishes environmental and facility safety sign guidelines aimed at uniformity, including consistent color use and visual layout. Using the guidelines provided under the umbrella of Z535, numerous manufacturers and suppliers over the years have clarified an industry-accepted standard for color usage.

When properly used, this type of scheme can assist in minimizing reliance on the wording of eyewash or drench shower station signage. The safety color codes and their intended applications include:

Safety Green Safety green is the color used to designate "safety" and the location of first aid and emergency response equipment, including drench showers and eyewashes. Employees who are not fluent in English can be instructed to and drilled on seeking out the safety green-colored emergency equipment should they be injured on the job.

Safety Red The basic color for identification of fire protection equipment and apparatus, which is consistent with our understanding of these assets in our everyday lives. This color category also includes alarm boxes, blanket boxes, fire buckets/pails and fire extinguishers. Additionally, red also is to be used for emergency stop bars and buttons on hazardous machinery.

Safety Blue The chief function of safety blue is for informational signs and bulletin boards. Safety blue also is used for specific warning signs associated with railroad operations, warning not to use or move equipment under repair.

Black with White or Yellow Safety black, with safety white or safety yellow (in combination) are the colors designating traffic controls or other housekeeping markings. The preferred use of safety black with safety yellow is for traffic markings, while the use of safety black with safety white is reserved for information purposes.

Fluorescent Orange, Orange-Red Used for labels and containers for blood and infectious waste. (Warning labels must be fluorescent orange or orange-red with the biosafety symbol in a contrasting color).

Magenta or Purple on Yellow Used as a radiation caution, including x-ray, alpha, beta, gamma, neutron and proton radiation.

Safety Yellow Basic color for designating caution and marking physical hazards, such as striking against, stumbling, falling, tripping and "caution in between." It also may be used for storage cabinets and safety cans for flammable or corrosive materials, including explosives and other unstable materials. Solid yellow or yellow with black stripes or checkers may be used interchangeably to provide the most visually commanding application.

Safety Orange Safety orange is the basic color for designating dangerous parts of machines and other energized equipment that may cause injuries, including cuts, crushing, shocking or other contact-related injuries. It also is used to alert the open state of equipment doors, which otherwise isolate internal gears, belts and other unguarded hazards.

If you consider that the industrial use of standardized color coding is certainly employed by large multinational corporations at their facilities worldwide, there is a reasonable chance that members of your multicultural work force may have had experience with standard color coding in the past.

Overall, there are numerous reports of accident rates declining by as much as 40 percent when a color identification program, with training, is put into place. When dangerous parts, hazardous areas and materials are marked with attention-getting colors, when aisles are outlined with zone marking lines and when injured employees instinctively head for the green signs signifying emergency equipment the impact of language barriers can be substantially lowered.

Casey Hayes is the engineering manager at Haws Corp., located in Sparks, Nev. He can be reached at (775) 353-8320 or [email protected]. Haws Corp. designs, manufactures and distributes drinking fountains and emergency equipment. For more information, visit www.hawsco.com/ac.

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