Broken English, Broken Bones? Mechanisms Linking Language Proficiency and Occupational Health in a Montreal Garment Factory
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Language barriers are often cited as a factor contributing to ethnic inequalities in occupational health; however, little information is available about the mechanisms at play. The authors describe the multiple ways in which language influences occupational health in a large garment factory employing many immigrants in Montreal. Between 2004 and 2006, individual, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 women and 10 men from 14 countries of birth. Interviews were conducted in French and English, Canada's official languages, as well as in non-official languages with the help of colleague-interpreters. Observation within the workplace was also carried out at various times during the project. The authors describe how proficiency in the official languages influences occupational health by affecting workers' ability to understand and communicate information, and supporting relationships that can affect work-related health. They also describe workers' strategies to address communication barriers and discuss the implications of these strategies from an occupational health standpoint. Along with the longer-term objectives of integrating immigrants into the linguistic majority and addressing structural conditions that can affect health, policies and practices need to be put in place to protect the health and well-being of those who face language barriers in the short term.
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