Responding to the needs of culturally diverse workforces is essential for improving organisational success

PPE - May 28, 2013 - 0 comments

Addressing cultural diversity in the workplace can impact significantly on occupational safety and health, finds a new report from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA).

The report, ‘Diverse cultures at work: ensuring safety and health through leadership and participation’, published this month, reveals that there can be serious consequences resulting from a lack of awareness of cultural difference, but that it is possible for organisations to be more inclusive and use cultural diversity to positive effects, as a resource for learning, change and renewal.

The importance of practising such techniques is highlighted by Dr Christa Sedlatschek, Director of EU-OSHA, who explains: ‘A precondition for business success is healthy and motivated employees, especially in times of growing pressure on market competition. Workers with a migration background have to face specific language and cultural challenges, which is also mirrored in higher accident and sick leave rates than national workers.’

As the proportion of the labour force that is composed of migrant workers within the EU continues to grow, many EU workplaces are becoming increasingly culturally diverse. Poor communication and misunderstanding may arise as a result of cultural differences and can result in tension and stress, reduced job satisfaction and higher staff turnover. An increased occupational safety and health risk may be present, in part, because, in a multicultural work team, individual perceptions of what is safe may vary. Research has also shown that miscommunication owing to cultural differences has played a role in 70–80 % of all maritime accidents.

One case study highlighted is that of the car manufacturer BMW in Munich that has applied a new initiative to integrate workers from different countries of origin. The initiative trained management on how to better deal with cultural diversity and introduced ‘health ambassadors’; workers, many of whom were migrants themselves, who were trained in health promotion and held an important mediating role among their colleagues. This helped to overcome typical language and social barriers for migrant workers, who often do not take advantage of company health promotion offers.

The report recommends that a constructive safety climate, which is shared by all those in a diverse workforce, needs to be established. The report applies cross-cultural theories to the workplace and demonstrates how leadership and worker participation are key to improving safety and health in culturally diverse workplaces. It recommends that managers adapt their leadership style, address language barriers, effectively train workers to overcome intercultural issues and nurture an inclusive working environment.

The report will prove an essential tool for improving safety and health outcomes in culturally diverse organisations, adding to EU-OSHA’s Healthy Workplaces Campaign on ‘Working together for risk prevention’. In line with the campaign’s spirit of working together, it is emphasised that the management of occupational safety and health in culturally diverse working environments demands an approach that includes multiple voices.

News release – May 27, 2013


Report ‘Diverse cultures at work: ensuring safety and health through leadership and participation’ (in English)

Healthy Workplaces Campaign ‘Working together for risk prevention’

Migrant workers at glance


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