06/03/2009

Partnerships key to protecting migrant workers

New, innovative partnerships have to be formed to help improve health and
safety in the workplace for migrant workers, a major construction conference
has been told.

In 2007/08, 12 migrant workers were among the 72 workers killed on Britain's
construction sites, making the industry the nation's biggest migrant killer.
The InterConstruct Conference, held in Edinburgh and organised by the
Institution of Occupational Safety and Health's Construction Group, was told
that the industry was now adopting different methods to get safety messages
across to migrant workers.

Glasgow Caledonian University's Billy Hare pointed out that images could be an
effective way of communicating with workers with limited knowledge of English.
He explained:

"There are some critical words, like ‘bomb' or ‘fire', that all workers
have to know and you want your workers to know these regardless of where they
come from.

"Images help reinforce messages and they're a good aid,” Dr Hare said, but
admitted: "They're not a substitute. The benefits are obvious, and IOSH has
funded further work in this area.”

Speakers at the conference, held in Edinburgh, highlighted the need to reach
out to migrant workers, building new partnerships with a wide range of bodies
beyond the industry, including Citizen's Advice Bureau, schools, churches and
even local pubs and shops that migrant workers use to get health and safety
messages across.

James Skilling, HM Principal Inspector of Health and Safety (Construction) said
that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was playing its part by developing
free guidance in a range of languages and by working closely with local
communities, the police, and Gangmaster Licensing Authority:

"We have to find new ways of getting to people and that's meant we've had to
make new partners. But there's still a number of migrant workers who don't
get advice from us and people who only find out about their rights after
they've had an accident.”

He added that it was important not to classify all migrant workers as
"vulnerable”:


"They come with varying degrees of language skills and different health and
safety expectations. But most people don't know about the HSE when they come
to the UK and they will often rely on friends and family for information.”

Loughborough University's Alistair Gibb added that fewer than 30 per cent of
migrants had experience of working in construction before they come to the UK:
"Many of them are intelligent, though, and language isn't the biggest problem
- it's the fact they know nothing about construction. They also don't know
their rights.”

Alistair added:
"Don't assume that one method of communication will work well. Even if they
don't understand they'll still sign to say they do. You can't always get
messages out through the normal routes.”

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AplusA-online.de - Source: Institution of Occupational Safety and Health