Should non-English speaking operative have to have an accredited qualification in English? Alistair Moffat considers the potential impact.

Having been present at many site inductions and witnessed non-English speaking operatives glazing over with confusion before they get on site, it is clear there are major safety concerns in this area. Moreover, I recently got confused on a large refurbishment project
and neither of the two fixers I conversed with could understand my desire to find the exit.

Legislation requires employers to ensure their employees are aware of and able to understand health and safety risks within their workplace. However low level literacy skills can limit
the capacity of individual employees to fully grasp these risks and may in turn jeopardise
themselves and those who are affected by their actions.

One of the great contradictions of our industry being CSCS tests, these can be passed in any language but City & Guilds require a basic level of English to complete an NVQL2. If our industry requires 100 per cent trade specific cards then there is something wrong in the practical outworking of this theory.

I align the ‘buddy’ system or the use of translators with PPE. In the hierarchy of risk control PPE is the last resort and in fact a management failure as it only protects the individual. Moreover the use of PPE places an individual in an unsafe environment – a comprehensive safe system of work will remove the need for PPE.

This analogy needs to be applied to the buddy system or the use of translators. Often the translator is not available or arrives after induction. The buddy system is also flawed as
it assumes he will accompany the non-English operative at all times – which we know in practice is unworkable.

The preferred solution is to enable the non-English speaking operative to have a accredited qualification in English. This training, through grants, is available free of charge. I have worked with a number of drylining contractors to provide this to their employees. In practice
once the internal contract has been awarded the subcontractor requests use of the meeting room on site from the principal contractor. The arrangement is normally acceptable as the tuition
takes place after working hours. The tuition is available to all subcontractor labour on site – not just the internal fitout contractor.

The benefits to this system are manifold – operatives can read and understand method statements and risks assessments. General awareness on site information (hazard awareness and
emergency signage) and site briefings by the PC are readily understood. Also in the event of an accident employers have a more robust defence to their safe system of work if they can demonstrate a proactive approach.

There are a number of training providers who can deliver this training. Learning & Skills Solutions – www. was delivering this training on a site I recently visited.

Alistair Moffat
Brunel Construction
T: 0208 300 0090