by Rachel Hoy
48% - nearly half of all Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK now employ non-UK nationals compared to 21 per cent in 2006, according to recent research from the Tenon Forum, showing the number of SMEs employing migrant workers has more than doubled in the past two years. More businesses than ever in the UK now employ foreign workers thanks in part to a large influx of employees from Eastern Europe countries whose citizens can reside freely in the EU.
Migrant workers are a valuable resource for UK businesses and have contributed to economic growth in previous years by filling labour shortages and skill gaps at low salaries. However, the language barrier means that the skills and qualifications of many of these workers are not recognised by employers. They tend to be employed in high risk jobs without adequate training given their comprehension of English. Furthermore, they work longer hours and have limited knowledge of the UK Health and Safety system which puts them at much greater risk of accidents in the workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have picked up on concerns that migrant workers could be missing out on crucial health and safety training because employers are not providing safety material in any language other than English. They have begun targeting the serious risk employers and heavily prosecuting the worst offences.
The Health & Safety Test by Construction Skills is a requirement by many employers, and is available in nine different languages.
In Bradford, severe brain damage suffered by one of construction site boss Shah Nawaz Pola's migrant workers occurred as a consequence of Mr Pola's complete disregard for health and safety. Slovakian Dusan Dudi was left fighting for his life when he was knocked off makeshift scaffolding by a falling reinforced concrete lintel. Mr Pola was ordered to pay £90,000 compensation to his severely injured worker and was jailed for six months.
In December 2007 a construction company director received penalties totalling over £250,000 after employee Pawel Szczotka suffered multiple fractures and was left confined to a wheelchair when a two-tonne floor slab fell on him. Szczotka and the other migrant workers at the construction site had received no safety training and the employer failed to report the accident.
Personal injury lawyers are also increasingly taking notice of workplace accidents affecting economic migrants. A number of solicitor firms have set up specialist operations to support economic migrant claims such as Russell Jones and Walker. The firm opened a Birmingham office to support the escalating number of migrant workers who suffer accidents at work in the city. With a national reputation in the field of workplace injury litigation, the team includes two native Polish employees whom are legally trained in order to assist Poles working in Birmingham on personal injury claims.
Shortcomings and gaps in the workplace mean many migrant workers lack the protection they need. While safety is compromised by poor language or literary skills, employers have a responsibility to communicate with their workers on safety issues. Companies who do not offer translated documentation or interpreting services to their non-English speaking migrant workers are leaving the door wide open for accident and injury claims. They are also missing an opportunity to utilise migrant workers' skills as fully as possible by not recognising qualifications gained in their native countries.
The health and safety of your employees is of paramount importance to enable the smooth running of your business. Don't leave your company exposed to the risk of the modern day claim culture by not having essential health and safety material available in your employees' native languages. Protect your key asset: your employees.
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