Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), which oversees the Canadian Translation Bureau, is up against a February 15, 2023 deadline to report on its steps to protect the health and safety of federal interpreters.
Canada’s Labor Program issued the order on February 1, 2023, almost exactly one year after the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) filed a formal complaint on behalf of the federal interpreters it represents.
“The number of health and safety incidents linked to sound quality has increased since the pandemic made virtual and hybrid meetings commonplace,” PSPC spokeswoman Stéfanie Hamel told Slator in an email.
In fact, CTV News reported that contract interpreters were hired to make up for the staff shortages caused by the number of interpreters placed on injury leave in 2022.
Since 2020, CAPE has repeatedly appealed to the Translation Bureau to adopt safety measures to remove risks to interpreters. On-the-job injuries have ranged from ear pain and headaches to tinnitus and severe acoustic shock.
A freelance interpreter was transported by ambulance to the hospital after “exposure to dangerous levels of toxic sound” during an October 2022 Senate committee meeting. More specifically, CTV News attributed the injury to remote participants not wearing headsets.
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While the interpreter affected in this instance was a contractor, their work took place in the same location, with the same equipment, used by many federal interpreters and members of CAPE.
Measures in Place and Efforts to Come
“Health and safety are a priority for the Translation Bureau. In collaboration with its partners, the Translation Bureau will follow these directions, which are in line with efforts already in place to protect interpreters,” Hamel wrote.
A March 2022 statement from the Translation Bureau enumerated some of the measures the department has already taken, including arranging for a technician to be present in the room alongside interpreters; assigning a maximum of three hours of remote interpreting daily with no reduction in pay; and ensuring that Parliament provides suitable headsets for participants during virtual sittings.
Serious though the issue may be, there is some room for cheekiness, as demonstrated by CAPE’s simple “side-eye” emoji in response to a LinkedIn post describing remote work as “one part of the solution to today’s growing risks.”