How to best communicate with workers from different cultural backgrounds about safety

Workplaces are becoming increasingly more diverse with people from different ages, cultures, skills and experiences.

two construction workers smiling

NSW is the most culturally-diverse state in Australia. We have more than 215 languages spoken, 225 different birthplaces, 146 religions practiced, and 27.6 per cent of NSW residents are born overseas [1].

It is important that workers can effectively communicate with each other about safety to help avoid injuries and help people return to work after an accident.

Culturally and linguistically diverse workplaces

Today, it would be hard to find a workplace that isn't culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD). A CALD workplace is one which includes people from different backgrounds, for example who:

  • are from different countries, including English-speaking countries such as Canada
  • have different cultural backgrounds
  • can speak other languages besides English
  • are from different areas in Australia, including regional towns, or
  • follow different religions.

We are all different, and these differences extend to the expectations we have about health and safety at work.

As an employer, it's your responsibility to help everyone get on the same page when they join your workplace, in order to create a safe and healthy work environment.

Communicating health and safety information

By law, employers have a duty to protect all workers from health and safety risks, and to proactively promote health and safety in the workplace [2]. This includes ensuring all workers understand relevant policies and procedures.

In the report Communicating Across Languages, WorkSafe Victoria has outlined the following steps to communicating about health and safety in a CALD workplace:

  1. Consult
    Employers should gather information on their workers' preferred languages and their language skills. 
  2. Find
    Employers should establish what information they need to communicate and how to communicate it so that everyone understands.
  3. Fix
    Employers should give health and safety information through face-to-face discussions, supported by visual signs and diagrams. Employers may arrange for interpreters or bilingual workers to deliver safety information, or have information and signs translated.
  4. Review
    Employers should ensure CALD workers understand by asking questions. They should regularly review processes for communicating with CALD workers.

'If you get injured at work' poster

It is highly recommended that the 'If you get injured at work' poster is displayed in all workplaces. This poster gives everyone clear and simple instructions on what to do in the event of an injury. You can download the poster in English, Arabic, Chinese, and several other languages.

Managing claims where English is not your worker's preferred language

If your worker prefers to communicate in a language other than English and has a workplace injury claim, the insurance agent can offer interpreters and assign an appropriate rehabilitation provider. A rehabilitation provider is covered by your insurer, and provides the following benefits:
  • facilitates communications between all parties
  • determines and understands the level of English competency of your culturally-diverse worker
  • allocates an interpreter or translator where needed (also covered by insurer), and
  • attends doctor's appointments with the injured worker.

Supporting your employee is essential

According to the Australian Government - Comcare's report, Barriers to Return to Work, workplaces have a big influence on an injured worker's return-to-work outcomes. Having a supportive workplace can be even more important if the injured worker may not yet have a strong support system in Australia.

Your workers are more likely to return to work, if you as an employer show willingness to support your injured worker to make a claim. It is also important to keep in contact with your workers that are unable to come into work due to an injury, as this will show that you genuinely care about their wellbeing and are invested in their recovery.

According to the 2006 census [3], 25.1 per cent of NSW's population spoke a language other than English at home, meaning there is a high chance that your workforce has people that prefer to use languages other than English to communicate.

It is important for workplaces to communicate work safety appropriately when it comes to policies and procedures, performance statistics, hazard and incident reports, workplace inductions, risk assessments and training.

Applying effective communication mechanisms is essential to ensure your workers–CALD and non-CALD–understand and are engaged in safety activities to prevent at-risk behaviours and to support a positive safety culture.


[1] Multicultural Communities, Multicultural NSW, NSW Government

[2] Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) 

[3] CALD Communities, Multicultural Health Communication Services, NSW Government