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When Culture Meets Safety Culture


Canada has always been a diverse and inclusive country, and our workplaces are reflective of our general population. Different cultures mean different languages and viewpoints at work — which gives us all the opportunity to embrace a commitment to clear communication.

Safety is one area where communication and training are crucial, so it’s an area that is especially important to address directly.

Work Safety Cultural Challenges

Some safety challenges that can result from a mix of international cultures within a company can include:

  • Language barriers. If supervisors and employees aren’t fluent in the same language, it can lead to frustration when communicating, or even to misunderstandings. And if employees have trouble with the language that training is presented in, they might not fully grasp what is being taught.
  • Perception of risk. It’s possible that someone’s national and cultural background can affect how they perceive risk. This can make it more difficult to get everyone on the same page as far as risk factors in the workplace and their importance.
  • Work values. Different cultural values can impact how employees act at work and with coworkers. Safety may have been treated differently in the environment where an employee used to work.
  • Job characteristics. If a worker held the same or a similar job in a different country, they might be used to performing the job in a certain manner. Adjusting to a different way of doing something they’re familiar with can take some time.
  • Training and skill variations. Similarly, the skill or safety training required for the job in a different country might not be the same as here. Workers might need more training to make sure they are familiar and comfortable with local regulations.

 Ensuring Safety Standards Are Met

So how can companies bridge the gap to cultivate a safety culture with employees from international backgrounds? The OSHA of Europe has some recommendations that can apply here in Canada as well.

  1. Reduce the impact of language barriers by using pictograms instead of, or in addition to, written instructions. EU-OSHA cautions, though, that pictograms might not always be interpreted the same way by people from different cultural backgrounds. Through training can help to make sure safety instructions are properly understood by everyone.
  2. Teach managers to better understand cross-cultural differences. Courses on different communication and leadership styles, as well as what styles work best for different cultures, can help managers be more adaptable in their leadership and more effectively manage diverse employees.
  3. Train all workers in concepts that increase intercultural effectiveness and understanding. It’s not enough to just train leaders—to enhance communication and cohesion in a multicultural workforce, everyone needs to work on traits like empathy, open-mindedness, social initiative, and flexibility.
  4. Focus on company culture. Promote inclusive working environments, where people of different backgrounds and with different ways of looking at problems can work together effectively. The company’s safety culture is an important part of this, too—the commitment of company leaders to safety plays a huge role in workplace behaviour.

 The Benefits of Diversity

A culturally diverse workforce is a great thing for your company and your clients. Putting people with different backgrounds and viewpoints together will result in creative and unique solutions to problems. And just like diversity goes beyond nationality, the training and leadership adaptability recommended by EU-OSHA can go a long way towards reducing age and other barriers, promoting a more inclusive workplace overall. (Everyone wins!)


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