The Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) standards were established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Minority Health (OMH). The primary goal of the CLAS program is to help Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) professionals focus on the importance of language preferences, cultural health beliefs and literacy levels, and communication needs. Applying CLAS increases the respect for each individual’s culture and results in more positive interactions and understanding about health and safety in the workplace.
3 Standards Within the Primary CLAS Standard
When OSH professionals put CLAS standards into practice, they assume less about how others want to be treated and learn more about how others prefer to be treated through different communication styles.
The standards within CLAS break down into three categories:
- Governance, Leadership, and Workforce
- Communication and Language Assistance
- Engagement, Continuous Improvement, and Accountability
The Governance, Leadership, and Workforce standard focuses on sustained organizational governance, which pertains to its policies, practices, and allocations of resources. It also looks at recruiting and retaining culturally and linguistically diverse teams, leadership teams, and workforces.
The Communication and Language Assistance standard is about proper communication and offering language assistance to individuals with limited English proficiency at no cost to them.
The Engagement, Continuous Improvement, and Accountability standard relates to management accountability, continuous improvements through tests, collecting and maintaining demographics and healthy equity outcomes, and partnering with the community to discover conflicts, grievances, and communicate better ways to follow CLAS.
Applying Governance, Leadership, and Workforce
OSH professionals can implement this standard by taking into consideration these seven practices:
- Identify or designate a CLAS champion or champions
- Develop a formal CLAS and implement a plan
- Target recruitment efforts to increase hiring and retaining culturally and linguistically diverse people
- Create internal organizational mentorship programs
- Deliver or make freely available continuous CLAS-related training
- Create and disseminate new resources about CLAS
- Incorporate an assessment of CLAS competencies
Work is a social environment that impacts health and influences the hazards of the work itself, wages, work hours, workload, and stress. Interactions with coworkers and leadership staff are another social determinant of health, which is why it is so vital for OSH professionals to apply this standard within their organization.
Applying Communication and Language Assistance
OSH professionals can implement this standard by taking into consideration these six practices:
- Complete an organizational assessment specific to language assistance services
- Standardize procedures and train staff members
- Notify individuals regarding the availability of communication and language assistance, including a list of languages and who qualifies
- Require all individuals serving as interpreters to complete certification
- Provide financial and human resource benefits, like time off, for those who complete interpreter training
- Formalize processes of translating materials into other languages besides English and for evaluating the quality of these translations
OSH professionals can make a significant impact if they use the communication and language assistance standard. Apply these techniques to signage, worker training, and worker learning and development. Imposing something as simple as the previously listed items can increase the psychological safety of workers through a new sense of inclusion and belonging within an organization.
Applying Engagement, Continuous Improvement, and Accountability
OSH professionals can implement this standard by taking into consideration these nine practices:
- Incorporate CLAS into the mission, vision, and strategic plans
- Tailor existing evaluation efforts to include measures of CLAS implementations
- Complete a CLAS-related organizational assessment
- Collect race, ethnicity, and language (REAL) data from all individuals receiving services
- Use REAL data collected from individuals to improve care and services
- Collaborate with stakeholders and community members about health needs and assessment, data collection, analysis, and reporting efforts
- Include community members in planning and developing programs and policies to ensure cultural and linguistic appropriation
- Consider using staff members as cultural brokers
- Partner with community organizations
Many OSH professionals are familiar with these nine practices. It is beneficial for an organization also to include industrial hygienists and psychologists to help assess whether the company is implementing CLAS standards in an impactful way that increases psychological safety, equity, and quality. Practicing this CLAS standard should be shared as a corporate social responsibility exercise for improved accountability.
CLAS Leads to Proper Communication
The more OSH professionals are aware of Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), the better an organization is at communicating in both a respectful and responsive way. Under the main CLAS standard, three CLAS standards can be broken down and implemented effectively. The bullet points listed above may be used as a checklist for OSH professionals to create an improved awareness, whether they are currently implementing, planning to implement, or not planning to implement CLAS standards at this time. As OSH professionals become more conscious of the CLAS standards, every organization can be successful at applying them.
Develop a company goal to focus more on the importance of language and communication needs for greater wellbeing in areas of culture and literacy. Applying CLAS is one more step toward improving health and safety in the workplace.
Bliss, M., and Kime, M., Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate OSH Professional Practice, Professional Safety
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (OMH), An Implementation Checklist for the National CLAS Standards