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The impact of diversity on workplace health & safety

by | Aug 18, 2020

Diversity in the workplace means many different things to many people depending on what side of the fence you might sit on. It is essential for all organisations to embrace and understand the impact of diversity on workplace healthy and safety

There are great benefits from having a diverse workforce. We know that a diverse workforce can lead to greater productivity that brings different talents together, all working together towards a common goal using different skill sets.

BUT, there can also be an increased level of risk to health and safety particularly in environments where machinery and equipment is involved. 

English is the common language spoken but for many workers from varying ethnicity both the spoken and written word is difficult and challenging. Hence the heightened need for employers to review all practices relating to work health safety. 

From the moment a new employee walks into your workplace the potential for an incident to happen is there and the risk is even higher when English is not the first language.

In the manufacturing environment there is a greater risk to the health and safety of the worker due to the language barrier. The language barrier makes it difficult to give direction, explain expectations and provide instruction on how a piece of plant and equipment must be operated.

It is the responsibility of employers not to put their workers at risk. Work Health Safety law states that employers are obligated to detect safety risks.

By implementing the 6 key principles below you will be well on your way to reducing risk and create a more inclusive workforce.


  • Policies, procedures and inductions should be developed and reflect the language needs of the workforce.
  • Implementing these will send a clear message to all workers that safety is taken seriously.
  • The induction is the very first starting point to communicate these to the employee and must be revisited on a regular basis.


  • Traditional written instructions will be next to useless if they cannot be read or understood by certain workers.
  • Employers should access training plans for language, literacy and cultural barriers.
  • The assessment should consider what training budget should be set aside for bilingual trainers, interpreters and new guidance material.
  • Consider creating audio-visual aids for all plant and equipment.
  • Understand the cultural differences and work practices that are ok in other countries are not acceptable in Australia.
  • But, also consider that there maybe work practices that may improve on your current practices.


  • Consultation is such an important part of creating a safe work place and it is a mandatory.
  • This happens via the weekly catch ups and Toolbox Talks.
  • All workers must also feel they can speak up and raise any safety concerns.


  • All forms of communication need to be as simple as possible when creating safety messages. KIS = Keep it simple.
  • Include other languages to suit your workforce.
  • All instructions should be in a step by step logical sequence.
  • Avoid using jargon and overly technical terms.
  • Do not rely on written forms; use verbal, visual and audio.
  • Make sure all signage includes a picture and not just words.


  • All those in leadership roles such as supervisors and team leaders must be trained on how to communicate to employees from diverse backgrounds.
  • Ultimately supervisors and team leaders have a primary responsibility for health and safety. The must act and point out potential hazards and preventative measures to all employees.
  • In particular, they need to have a higher awareness for the workers who cannot speak or have limited English.


  • When recruiting workers who have language and literacy requirements there needs to be a process that will outline what the skills are required for the role and whether the potential employee can match these skills.
  • When done badly an employer opens themselves up for a possible discrimination claim.

Don’t hesitate to call or email us for our comprehensive Checklist on reducing risk when employing workers with diverse backgrounds.

Maureen Kyne



Maureen Kyne

Maureen is a leading authority in workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. With qualifications and a career spanning nursing, manufacturing, construction, transport, HR, IR & WHS she brings wide-ranging experiences.

Having lived and worked in both regional towns and capital cities, Maureen understands the economic and workplace pressures faced across diverse environments from harvesting sheds in farming communities to metropolitan corporate boardrooms.

Maureen presents with a warm demeanour and easy conversational style yet is fearless in raising the issues most prefer to avoid. Whether wearing a prevention, detection or correction bullying hat, Maureen knows how to peel back the layers and get to the root cause of the toughest and most complex situations.

Respect drives change and as a confidante and training facilitator Maureen will do what it takes to save lives and build better futures.


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