Interpreter Safety

By: Jack Xu

Interpreting is a stimulating, rewarding career choice. However, with the rewards come also the realities of the multiple settings where we interpret. This is a profession which requires considerable physical and emotional stamina. Similar to many other professions and occupations, interpreters face occupational hazards, risks, and safety issues. Interpreters need to develop an awareness of safety and self-care issues and their potential to affect their work. Here is some practical advice for helping you stay safe while you are on an interpreting assignment.

Be proactive about your safety:

  • Always carry a mobile phone for emergency communications.
  • Always meet service providers, clients, and allophones in a safe location. If you are working at an allophone’s home, do not enter the property unless accompanied by the service provider.
  • You can exercise your right to refuse to work in clearly hazardous situations. Disclose any feelings of discomfort about an appointment to the agency or service provider, who may guide you and provide assistance and reassurance.
  • Do not enter any situation or location where you feel threatened or unsafe.
  • If you take public transit, confirm the bus or train schedule before you walk out to the stop or station, especially at night or in a remote, isolated, location.
  • Avoid socializing or traveling with an allophone or service provider. Do not accept a car ride from anyone in the encounter. This places you at physical risk and also increases the chances of compromising your impartiality and professionalism.
  • Report any incident or suspicion to security and the police.
  • If you drive to your assignments, be vigilant of your surroundings whenever arriving and departing.
  • Have your car keys in hand when approaching your vehicle. If possible, try to avoid parking your vehicle in unlit, isolated areas.
  • If you feel insecure or unsafe about walking back to your car alone, you can often ask for an escort from the security or front desk of a hospital or office building.
  • Be prepared to handle volatile or unstable behaviour. Mentally rehearse what you would do if an individual becomes aggressive or hostile.
  • If possible, sit on the other side of a table from the allophone, putting some distance and a barrier between you two. You may also sit near the door and closer to the service provider.
  • Report any form of violent behaviour to the appropriate service provider and agency immediately.
    If you feel you are in danger, you may request to be excused from the assignment. You also have every right to excuse yourself from an appointment in a non-confrontational manner if any party appears to be intoxicated, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, emotionally disturbed, or out of control.

Chances are, you will go through most of your professional life with no serious incidents, but it is better to have a plan in place than to regret non-action. And remember, your safety always comes first!