The sign language interpreter and risk management

By Zane Hema

I saw an advertisement for a job in risk management that prompted me to think how risk management is what we do as sign language interpreters. In the business and financial environments, risk is part of daily life and companies and institutions structure themselves in order to manage risk. The types of risk include credit risk, financial risk, operational risk, technology risk, insurance risk and regulatory risk.

The professional skilled in risk management has undergone specialised training and possesses the ability to compile, analyse and evaluate data and report on how to either avoid or reduce risk to the well-being of an individual, organisation or business. There are a number of things they do to achieve this. For this article I will refer to two:

  • (a) being conversant with relevant legislation, contractual and government policy; and
  • (b) being able to compile and examine data and applying a variety of criteria, so requiring excellent skills in analysis and evaluation.

In the interpreting environment, risk is a part of our everyday practice on two levels. The interpreter the person is at risk; this could be from fatigue, from vicarious trauma, from Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) or other occupational hazards. The interpreter’s interpretation is at risk; risk of lacking equivalence, risk of not being understood or worse being misunderstood.

Like the risk manager, the interpreter has undergone specialist training and is conversant with the Code of Ethics, but can also access data from a range of sources, such as literary work, articles, research, PD sessions, peer conversations, conferences, media and many others, that reduce any risk.

An example is data from the research of Cokely which encourages the interpreter to allow enough time to process the source text in order to reduce the risk of omissions, additions, substitutions, intrusions and anomalies (Cokely, 1986). Another example comes from Dean and Pollard who encourage the interpreter to develop control measures to mitigate risks from environmental, paralinguistic, interpersonal and intrapersonal demands placed on them (Dean and Pollard, 2001).

Witter-Merithew and Stewart make a case for reducing risk to consumers of interpreting services by the interpreter, novice or veteran alike, developing a solid foundation in ethical fitness and decision-making (Witter-Merithew and Stewart, 2006). Woodcock and Fisher, in their work Occupational Health and Safety for Sign Language Interpreters report extensively on ways the interpreter may reduce risk or personal injury by offering a wealth of advice and a range of exercises (Woodcock and Fischer, 2008).

So being familiar with the Code of Ethics, its purpose and its content is important. Analysis and evaluation of a range data provides new ways of understanding what lies behind our actions and their consequences and thus provides opportunities for us to better manage the risk to our service and those who rely on it.

Zane Hema is a professional Auslan interpreter but originally trained as a British Sign Language interpreter completing his Post Graduate Diploma in 2000. He also works as an international interpreter educator and is the former President of the Association of Sign Language Interpreters (for England, Wales & Northern Ireland), Vice-President of the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters and Secretary of World Association of Sign Language Interpreters. He gained his first NAATI accreditation in 2014. This article was originally published in the ASLIA e-update and is reproduced with permission.  

Published: 14/03/2017