Interpreting is a highly technical and cognitively demanding task. In order to fully provide a high quality service that is consistently of an excellent standard, professional interpreters require supports such as regular breaks and in some cases, co-interpreters.
The reliability and quality of interpretation will decrease over time if interpreters work alone or do not have sufficient breaks. This has been proved by many pieces of research over the years. There also is a significant risk of what is known as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) or also Cumulative Motion Injury (CMI).
Please be guided by interpreters in the management of these important health and safety issues.
Best Practice in Interpreter Health and Safety Provision
The European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (EFSLI) state in their policy document HOW TO WORK WITH SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS:
Depending on the situation, one or more interpreters are needed to provide the interpretation services. In the following situation, a minimum of two interpreters should be provided:
a) The assignment is in an international setting, or there are more than two languages or foreign (sign) languages used in the setting.
b) The duration of the event is two or more hours.
c) At conferences or large events
d) A deaf person has a main responsibility during the event, e.g. president, presenter, leader.
e) The content is highly technical or at academic level.
f) Deaf participants with different communication needs are attending or there are deafblind participants attending.
g) In a special setting, for example deaf participants participating in a panel discussion and in the audience (in this setting a minimum of four interpreters needed: two teams of each two interpreters).
The interpreters will be teaming or co-working during the event, meaning that they will both be actively at work during all times.
[…] Interpreters need regular breaks during the event, to have lunch, coffee and water, preferably in a separate room from the participants at the event. If interpreting services are needed full time, then more interpreters need to be hired for during the event.
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), based in the United States, says in its Standard Practise Paper on Cumulative Motion Injury:
Employers concerned about the health and safety of employees can help the interpreter avoid injury. Some preventative measures the employer may take in consultation with the interpreter are:
- provide 15 minutes of rest or alternative work for each one-and-a-half to two hours of interpreting.
- utilize more than one interpreter for sessions exceeding one-and-a-half hours.
- …  work with the interpreter to analyze the work site to identify and eliminate, when possible, “stressors” such as standing in the same place for a long time, sitting in chairs which are not ergonomically designed, being exposed to extremes in temperature, and assuming awkward positions to interpret.
- avoid continuous interpreting with heavy work output requiring intense concentration for long periods of time. The amount of time which should be spent in actual interpreting may vary from one job to another.
SLIANZ, the Sign Language Interpreter Association of New Zealand, state in their SLIANZ Occupational Safety and Health Standard Practice paper that:
As a professional association for Sign Language interpreters in New Zealand we believe provision of interpreters is important in any situation where a Deaf person or sign language user needs to access information. We also believe that any provision of interpreting services must take place in a safe and healthy environment.
To allow this to happen the following should be applied:
- Provide 5 – 10 mins of rest break for each 30 – 45 mins of interpreting.
- In assignments exceeding 1 hour in length, use or book 2 interpreters.
- Ensure adequate preparation materials are provided to interpreters at least 24 hours prior to the assignment taking place. This includes copies of notes, PowerPoint slides, speeches and also any audio-visual materials such as videos.
- Encourage interpreters to learn how to identify risks to themselves and undertake training on prevention of OOS Discuss and work with the interpreter to analyse the work environment. Work together to identify and eliminate possible risk factors. Examples of this may include use of chairs which can be adjusted to meet ergonomic needs of individual interpreters, remaining in one place for long periods of time, interpreting in awkward positions, lighting, temperature control.
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