1. Introduction
  2. Musculoskeletal Disorders
  3. Interpreting Duration & Adequate Breaks
  4. When to Use Two Interpreters
  5. Interpreting Preparation
  6. Educational Interpreting
  7. Interpreting Responsibility & Self Awareness
  8. Video Relay Interpreting
  9. Resources

    This policy is aimed to outline and incorporate the most recent industry health and safety standards for sign language interpreters, including relevant research drawn from European and international best practices.
    This guide is intended for working interpreters, interpreting students and educators, and those who employ or procure the services of interpreters.
    Please note: this is a working document, subject to change. It is not to be
    taken as a prescriptive document, to be enforced in all interpreting
    situations. Each interpreting assignment is unique, and interpreters should
    use this as a guide to analysing each assignment and deciding on the
    appropriate configuration and arrangements for interpretation. It is the
    interpreter whose expertise and knowledge should guide final decisions
    as to the above.
    Occupational health education is essential for professionals to avoid early
    attrition from the practice due to overuse injuries and inadequate breaks.
    Injury can occur among sign language interpreters due to forceful, speedy,
    repetitive movements of signing whilst working under the pressure of the
    intense mental processing involved in interpreting, often combined with
    insufficient rest breaks and awkward positioning. The continuous occurrence
    of these factors can place an interpreter at risk of injury. Repetitive Strain
    Injury is defined as
    “excessive repetitive movements without adequate rest breaks which
    cause micro traumas to the tissues. With a rest break, the body can
    heal itself. Without the break, the body then begins its inflammatory
    response in order to heal the injury. During the inflammatory response,
    the body sends signals to let us know that the healing process has
    begun: redness, pain, swelling, warmth and loss of range to the range
    of motion. If during the healing process, the muscles are used
    repeatedly, the injured area begins to swell more and more edema can
    Musculoskeletal Disorders Among Sign Language Interpreters
    The major area of concern for interpreters in workplace health and safety
    terms is overuse injury. Over the past 20 years, the range of overuse injuries
    has been collectively referred to as Repetitive Strain Injury. Increasing
    evidence suggests that one in four sign language interpreters may experience
    symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders severe enough to modify their
    The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (1986) defines
    overuse injury as:
    ● A collective term for a range of conditions characterised by discomfort
    or persistent pain in muscles, tendons and other soft tissues, with or
    without physical manifestations.
    ● Occupational Overuse Syndrome is usually caused or aggravated by
    work and is associated with repetitive movement, sustained or
    constrained postures and/or forceful movements.
    Factors that may contribute to the development of overuse injuries:
    ● Biomechanical factors such as constrained posture; the frequency of
    repetitive movement; the force used in performing movements; faults
    in equipment and task design, and increased muscle tension
    associated with mental stress.
    ● Faulty work organisation such as: the duration of work without rest;
    bonus and overtime incentives; lack of training and supervision; and
    ineffective supervision.
    It has been well established that sign language interpreters experience high
    levels of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders. During the 1988-1989
    academic year at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), 45% of
    the employed sign language interpreters were either completely disabled or
    had to reduce their workload due to upper extremity pain (DeCaro,
    Feuerstein, & Hurwitz, 1992). In the following year, 60% of the full-time
    interpreters at NTID were diagnosed with either work-related tendonitis or
    nerve entrapment disorders (Feuerstein & Fitzgerald, 1992). During that same
    time period, a survey of the Southern California Registry of Interpreters for the
    Deaf found that approximately 44% of members had some type of overuse
    syndrome (Sanderson, 1987). Scheuerle, Guilford, & Habal (2000) surveyed
    145 interpreters and found that 119 (82%) had experienced some form of
    disabling pain that they attributed to sign language interpreting. Most recently,
    Fischer & Woodcock (2012) surveyed 314 interpreters and found that 38%
    reported that they had been diagnosed with some form of MSD. So, despite
    the awareness of the issue being raised nearly 25 years ago, the prevalence
    of MSDs among sign language interpreters remains a serious problem within
    the profession (Donner et al 2016).

    Interpreting Duration & Adequate Breaks
    ● ASLIA recommends that an interpreter should work no more than 5
    hours per day and a total of 25 hours per week. However, many
    interpreters are working beyond this recommended limit. A result of this
    tendency to work beyond recommended limits is a sharp increase in
    the number of interpreters who are unable to work for a period (or
    permanently) due to Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) or
    Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). *note ref number 15.
    ● Interpreting is a highly skilled process, which requires intense
    concentration. Therefore the interpreter requires appropriate breaks.
    Ideally when working in teams, the interpreter will interpret for 20
    minutes and then the “off-task” interpreter will interpret.
    ● However, when working alone, there is additional pressure on the
    interpreter to perform at his/her maximum. In order to ensure best
    working practice, breaks must be given to the interpreter. Usually after
    35 – 45 minutes, a 10-15 minute break is required.
    ● Some sources suggest that even these break times are not sufficient.
    The International Organisation for Standardisation recommends, that
    for longer assignments the interpreter should be provided with a break
    after a maximum of 60 minutes of consecutive interpreting and 15 to
    30 minutes of simultaneously interpreting.
    ● If an interpreting assignment is longer than one hour in duration, it is
    essential for two interpreters to be employed. The interpreters will work
    in turn, for periods of between fifteen and thirty minutes at a time.
    ● For interpreting assignments greater than two days in duration it is
    suggested that a team of three or more interpreters be considered.
    When To Use Two Interpreters

    ● In an international setting, or when there are more than two languages
    or foreign (sign) languages used in the setting.
    ● Adequate breaks are essential for anything between 45 mins to 1.5 hrs,
    beyond which 2 interpreters must be used. The interpreter(s) in
    question must be deferred to if these guidelines are proposed to be
    ● At conferences or large events.
    ● Where the Deaf person has a main responsibility during the event, e.g.
    president, presenter, leader.
    ● Where the content is highly technical or of an academic nature.
    ● Where Deaf participants with different communication needs, or
    deafblind participants, are attending.
    ● In a range of specific settings; for example where some of the Deaf
    participants are participating in a panel discussion, and others are in
    the audience. In this setting, a minimum of four interpreters are
    needed: two teams of two interpreters each.
    Interpreting Preparation

    ● If no preparation material is provided, it can become difficult for the
    interpreter to understand information due to the gap in knowledge
    between participants and the interpreter. This can lead to a breakdown
    in communication, if the interpreter cannot interpret what is not
    understood / known, due to lack of preparation on the part of the
    booking party. It is essential that booking parties and all participants be
    guided by the interpreter in relation to what preparation is needed.
    There will be cases where, without the relevant preparation, an
    assignment will not be able to be interpreted.
    ● Lack of preparation results in additional physical and cognitive stress
    for the interpreter. The quality of the interpretation also decreases.
    ● Wherever possible, preparation should be provided to the interpreter
    well in advance of the assignment date. This will include items such
    ● lecture/presentation notes
    ● agenda / programme / order of ceremonies
    ● minutes of the previous meeting
    ● PowerPoint presentations
    ● any such material relating to the event that would aid the
    interpreter in preparing.

    Educational interpreting
    ● The pace at which information is delivered in an educational setting is
    usually quite fast. In addition, information to be interpreted may come
    from a variety of sources – live presentations, film, videos or audio
    recordings. Owing to the physical and cognitive fatigue that is created
    for an educational interpreter by the demands of an educative
    environment with its variable, high speed delivery, special
    consideration must be given to their work circumstances.
    ● Careful consideration must be given to whether an educational
    interpreter can effectively and safely work alone, or if it is necessary to
    employ a second interpreter to allow working as a team.
    ● Any audio or video presentation must be clear and of sufficient volume
    to allow it to be easily heard by the interpreter. Where possible, it is
    recommended that captioned video and DVD presentations be used.
    The presentation should be provided to the interpreter prior to the
    interpretation to allow him or her to become familiar with the content.
    ● Factors to be considered include, but are not limited to:
    ● the density and pace of content,
    ● the overall demands of classroom interaction and participation,
    ● the overall schedule of interpreting that the interpreter may provide
    on a given day across multiple classes, lessons or lectures,
    ● the amount of time spent in the classroom when students are
    working individually and independently of instruction.
    ● We recommend interpreters work with employers to ensure the above
    points are fully considered in an assignment.

    Interpreter Responsibility and Self Awareness
    Interpreters also need to take responsibility for their own health and safety in
    the workplace. The following points should be put into use as part of any
    interpreter’s professional practice:
    ● Interpreters should be involved in all decisions affecting their work.
    ● Interpreters need to see their health and safety given high priority, and
    should feel able to report concerns promptly and confidently, without
    fear of retribution or punitive measures.
    ● Interpreters should educate themselves to the risk factors involved in
    the profession, and undertake measures to lessen the risk to
    ● Interpreters should consider their signing style and whether it can be
    modified to lessen stress on joints.
    ● Interpreters should make a habit of stretching before and after an
    assignment. Use exercise and stretching activities to contribute to
    optimal levels of interpreter well-being and performance.
    ● Interpreters must use their discretion to ensure team interpreter(s) are
    booked where required, for assignments over one hour in duration.
    ● Interpreters should make sure adequate breaks are taken during the
    day. Ensure you have a proper morning, lunch and afternoon break.

    ● If returning to work after a lengthy break, ease back into full time work
    ● If problems occur, bring them to the attention of management
    immediately. Do not carry on working in an unsafe environment. Report
    any potential hazards as soon as possible.
    Video Relay Interpreting
    ● Contracted hours of work should consider the duration and intensity of
    work and ensure suitable breaks are provided.
    ● Video interpreters are at risk of developing conditions such as
    repetitive movement injuries, eyestrain, physical and emotional fatigue.
    ● Under standard working conditions an interpreter’s performance is
    known to degrade after a period of 30 minutes (ASLI 2015 & CISLI
    ● Interpreter’s working in call centre environments have provided
    subjective reports of mental fatigue after approximately 20 minutes of
    work leading to perceived increase of errors in production, thus
    compromising the quality of service they provide (Braun & Taylor,
    2011; Moser-Mercer, 2003 & 2005 cited in ASLI 2015).
    ● Short, frequent breaks are more satisfactory than occasional, longer
    breaks: e.g: a 5 -10 minute break after 50 – 60 minutes continuous
    screen and/or keyboard work is likely to be better than a 15 minute
    break every two hours.
    ● If possible, breaks should be taken away from the screen. Evidence
    from studies show that informal breaks, away from the screen (e.g. on
    other tasks), appear to be more effective in relieving visual fatigue than
    formal rest breaks.
    ● Together with interpreting breaks, Health Service Executive
    recommendations state that people working at a computer screen
    should take regular eye breaks (See resources for more detail).
    ● The interpreter’s amount of work at the screen should be monitored
    and should they experience periods of work at a particularly high pace
    or intensity, this should also be taken into account.
  10. https://aslia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ASLIA-OHS-Policy.pd
  11. http://www.odi.govt.nz/new-zealand-sign-language-nzsl/nzsl-tools-andresources/
  12. https://intrpr.github.io/library/rid-spp-cumulative-motion-injury.pdf
  13. http://signlanguageinterpreting.ie/booking-terms-conditions/
  14. http://efsli.org/sli-profession/
  15. http://rid.org/UserFiles/File/pdfs/117.pdf
  16. http://www.odi.govt.nz/resources/guides-and-toolkits/working-with-nzsl-i
    Version 1.1 March 2018
  17. https://interpreter-ne.ie/hs-2/
  18. https://wfdeaf.org
    Work_201 2.pdf
  19. ASLI 2015: Video Interpreting Best Practice . Available at:
    17.Health Service Executive: http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/faqs/vdubreaks.htm