Construction Confederation says non-English speaking workers may pose threat on dangerous sites.
Building workers who cannot understand English should not be employed on dangerous sites, according to the Construction Confederation's guidance on foreign workers.

The confederation warns, however, that a blanket ban on foreign workers would be in breach of the law on racial discrimination.

The guidance, which was issued last month, says that if contractors can demonstrate that safety is a prime consideration on a project, there will be a case for only employing English speakers.

The guidance states: "Once the employer has identified the risk and considered reasonable means of reducing it, if there is still a real health and safety risk, then it may be acceptable to refuse to employ non-English speaking personnel for particular jobs."

The recommendations to contractors over reducing risk for foreign workers include:

  • Allocating foreign workers low-risk work
  • Ensuring the maximum use of internationally recognised warning signs
  • Providing more training and supervision
  • Providing translator services where written information is essential.
  • Considering English language courses for long-term workers.

If there is a real risk, it may be acceptable to refuse to employ non-English speaking personnel

Construction Confederation guidance

The confederation also urges contractors to assess safety risks on "critical activities" – tasks that rely on effective on-site communication.

The guidance states: "Critical activities may include those such as crane slinger/signaller, confined space working, and activities that require a permit-to-work system."

It says these types of activities may be deemed unsuitable for staff who cannot understand or speak English.

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