Four Tips for Improving Workplace Safety With Plain Language

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Raymond: Hello and welcome to Health and Safety To Go, a CCOHS podcast.

Today we’re talking about plain language. Plain language - also called clear language -  is an approach to communication that centers the needs of the reader or receiver. It is an approach that looks at a message from their point of view. They should be able to understand and act on the message the first time they read or hear it.
Plain language is an important aspect of safety and well-being in the workplace, as it can help workplaces communicate their safe work procedures or policies more effectively. It also helps make sure directions are followed and provides information that is easily understood.

Riane: A lot of organizations use acronyms and expressions as a way to make communication more efficient and to create a sense of camaraderie among workers over a shared language. But workplaces are becoming more diverse, and demographics are changing. These acronyms and expressions can be a language barrier for workers who are new to the country or not yet accustomed to the jargon in their workplace. It can also be a barrier to workers with cognitive disabilities.

Raymond: Not to mention clear language will help workers when they need to process information quickly on the job site.

Riane: That makes sense, Raymond. So, in order to give organizations a good place to start, why don’t we share four tips for using plain language to create a safer, more inclusive work environment?

Raymond: Absolutely, let’s do it. Number one is: Reduce stress by keeping language plain right from the start.

The first few weeks of a new job can be stressful enough. Giving a new worker a big glossary of terms to learn can add a lot of stress! They may feel pressure to pretend they understand something they don’t, and this disconnect can be a potential safety risk to themselves and their co-workers.

Riane: That’s right! All new workers should be trained so they understand any unfamiliar terms.  They need to know how to do their job safely. Completely eliminating jargon and acronyms from your workplace might not be possible, but you can help by being aware of their use, and explaining the terms.  

Trainers and supervisors should make sure that readability levels and language choices of materials and instructions suit the learners. Let learners know that it’s important - and helpful to other learners - to ask questions about terms they don’t understand. Pair new workers with a more experienced partner who can help them understand the culture of the workplace, including language.

Raymond: Number two: Think beyond words. It can be helpful to add relevant pictures or graphics to your materials. English or French may be your workers’ second or third language. Adding relevant visual images can help improve their understanding.

Riane: Number three: Spell it out! Cut out acronyms. Don’t assume that everyone knows what certain letters stand for, even if they’re commonly used outside of a work context (ASAP instead of “as soon as possible,” for example.) You’d be surprised at how often acronyms sneak into your everyday communications such as emails, notices, and posters. Assume that people are not familiar with acronyms, and spell them out whenever you find yourself using them.  

Raymond: We could make a similar point about terms used in that industry. Being comfortable with industry terms can be a point of pride for some workers.  But just like any other language, it takes time to master.

Being part of an exclusive club can feel good for those inside it, but it doesn’t feel great for those who are outside of it. For example, tradespersons who immigrate from other countries have the same level of experience and qualifications as their colleagues, but the terminology may be different or does not translate easily.

Riane: Remember that having a more diverse workforce has many benefits. When you can keep language accessible, your workers will feel more comfortable to share ideas and ways to improve things.

Raymond: Number four: Treat plain language as a skill. Like workplaces, language is always changing. Share new plain language resources with your managers and supervisors. Get feedback from people in your workplace. Ask yourself, and others, is your communication as clear as it can be?

Using plain language should start from the top – when leaders avoid using acronyms and jargon in their communications, presentations, and marketing, it encourages managers, supervisors and other workers to do the same . Workplaces should incorporate and encourage the use of plain language by applying plain language guidelines for all documents, including health and safety policies and safe work procedures. This approach makes information more accessible for everyone.

Riane: For more information on plain language in the workplace, visit our website,, and type in “plain language” or “clear language.”

Raymond: Thanks for listening!