A signed vocabulary for Safety in the Workplace

Developing and adapting an accessible Health and Safety vocabulary from English to International Signs in a multilingual-multimodal environment

Written by Maria T. De Monte


May 2019 saw the completion of the first version of the Health and Safety vocabulary in International Signs (IS). The vocabulary has been built as a collaboration between Istituto Statale Sordi di Roma (ISSR) and Výzkumný Ústav Bezpečnosti Práce (VÚBP) – respectively the State Institute for the Deaf (based in Rome, Italy) and the Occupational Safety Research Institute (based in Prague, Czech Republic). This collaboration resulted in the selection of about 200 Health and Safety words and phrases to facilitate workplace communication between all employees, whatever their hearing and language ability may be. The vocabulary uses both British and International Signs, awaiting to be translated into the locally spoken language of the project consortium Partners, as well as described in Italian, Austrian and British Sign Language.

The selection of the first set of words and phrases was done by VÚBP considering the possible emergency situations emerging, especially in the field of construction. Once Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) regulations had been identified, resources such as EU regulations, professional manuals and instructional materials, were consulted to identify special words and situational phrases that could adapt to the SSaW project goals.

The draft working file was then discussed for translation to IS with the ISSR, whose staff had dedicated a large part of the first phase to identify those words and phrases that could easily be adapted to IS. Designating a signed vocabulary to a broad public, mainly comprising people with no signing experience, has meant working on the selection of words and phrases that could easily be managed by non-signers, as well as selecting IS signs with hand shapes that are easy to recognise and produce.

The ISSR team who worked on the vocabulary brings together Deaf and hearing experts in Sign Language and Health and Safety regulation. A significant input has been given to this phase from the collaboration with Luca Rotondi and Marta Zuddas (Emergenza Sordi APS – Deaf Emergency Association for Social Promotion, Rome, Italy) who are both Deaf and hold Masters’ degrees in “International Security/Safety, Global Strategies and Medical Maxi-Emergency in the Non-Conventional Events Analyses and Management”, University of Tor Vergata, Rome. Gabriele Gianfreda and Maria T. De Monte have given their contribution as Sign Language experts, while Paola Gregori has shared her previous experience in Health and Safety for the ISSR and as an SL interpreter to manage the challenge of adapting information in IS while still respecting the European Regulations on Health and Safety matters. Last but not least, the precious contribution of Mirko Di Marco has made this all a reality in International Signs.

The result is a set of videos in IS which are highly accessible, based on simple configurations, built on iconicity and cultural gestures, and ready to be taught through the next steps of this highly ambitious project.

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