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No proof that foreign workers are less safe

Sir,

You have published a number of letters suggesting that foreign workers are at greater risk if they do not speak English and which question whether or not it is acceptable to employ them. (‘Non-English speakers put lives at risk’, August 30; ‘Lack of English is dangerous’, August 23).

Most accidents are caused by poor management, not generally by the language skills of the victims.
If a person falls through a dangerous gap, it is more often because their employer failed to make sure that such a basic precaution as guardrails were provided.

When non-English speakers are employed, their health and safety needs undoubtedly require extra attention. But this is not an argument for not employing them.

It is an argument for making sure that their needs are properly managed, whatever that may require.
We have produced and circulated guidance to all our member companies on this issue.

We do not claim that everything is perfect in engineering construction. But in our industry, as the profile of overseas workers in the UK has been increasing, our injury rates have been consistently going down.

We have no evidence that, in general terms, more overseas workers mean less health and safety – and neither, as we understand, does the Health and Safety Executive.

In engineering construction, skills shortages mean that unless overseas workers are employed, UK contractors could fail to resource the new power stations and other major projects the country desperately needs. Other construction sectors face similar shortages.

In practice, overseas workers are essential to meet contemporary UK construction needs.
The answer, therefore, is not to avoid the challenge, it is to implement the standards required to meet it safely. We believe it has been demonstrated that this can be done in our industry.

Richard Ash
Safety health & environment manager
Engineering Construction Industry Association
London SW1H