OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

July 26, 2010

Letter # 20071001-7893

Re: English language proficiency at construction sites.

Question: Is there an OSHA requirement that obligates employers to ensure that their employees can communicate with supervisors and co-workers in English at construction sites so that they can understand safety training and instructions and coordinate safely with co-workers?

Answer: while there are construction standards that require training and instructions, there are no OSHA construction standards that specifically require that such information be conveyed and understood in English. For example, 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(2) states:

The employer shall instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.

Certain OSHA construction standards supplement the requirement of 1926.21(b)(2) by requiring that employees receive training in specific topics.  One example is 29 CFR 1926.503(a)(1), which provides:

The employer shall provide a training program for each employee who might be exposed to fall hazards.  The program shall enable each employee to recognize the hazards of falling and shall train each employee in the procedures to be followed in order to minimize these hazards.

The employer's duty under the construction standards to train and instruct employees in how to comply with OSHA standards and to avoid hazards in the work environment necessarily means that employers must present information in a manner that employees are able to understand.  As OSHA stated in the OSHA Training Standards Policy Statement, dated 04/28/2010:1

[R]egardless of the precise regulatory language, the terms "train" and "instruct," as well as other synonyms, mean to present information in a manner that employees receiving it are capable of understanding.2

In addition, it is common that, for safety reasons, construction employees need to be able to communicate with supervisors and co-workers.  However, an OSHA obligation in that regard would be met by any system in which that communication could reliably occur; there is no OSHA requirement that the communication system be based on the English language.

Ben Bare, Acting Director
Directorate of Construction

1  https://www.osha.gov/dep/OSHA-training-standards-policy-statement.pdf [back to text]

2  To assist employers in their training obligations, OSHA publishes many materials in Spanish, many of which are available on the OSHA website as well as in printed form.  They can be found by visiting the OSHA homepage and, under the topic "Compliance Assistance," clicking on the "Hispanic" tab.  Spanish-language outreach resources on the OSHA website can also be reached by clicking on "Quick Start" under "Compliance Assistance" and then clicking on "Hispanic Outreach." [back to text]