What Happens When Chemical Technical Translations Go Wrong?

  |  June 7, 2017

The dangerous impact of mistakes in chemical technical translations.

While incorrect technical translations can be a source of humor or insult for target markets, inaccurately translated chemical documents can have serious and lasting effects on the safety of end users and the facilities they operate in.

Chemical technical translations require the same meticulous accuracy as the original document—the finalized message should be clear of errors, as mistakes can lead to confusion, and in the worst cases, serious bodily harm. Additionally, these errors can have a negative impact on the reputation of companies in the chemical field.

Chemical-related documents may include technical manuals, lab reports, research reports, articles, and environmental audits, just to name a few. That’s why the company providing technical translations must not only have professional translators on staff, but subject matter experts.

Let’s look at two examples where inaccurate chemical technical translations can result in serious consequences for chemical companies:

When Simple Errors in Chemical Technical Translations Result in Dire Consequences

Warning labels, hazard signage, and other indicators of dangerous chemicals are not just required by law, but necessary for the safety of staff and other end users. Inaccurate or incorrect translation of these signs and labels can result in serious injury for workers, who can’t understand hazard warnings or labels, in the performance of their duties.

This can easily lead to costly investigations and fines performed by regulatory authorities and may result in lawsuits by injured staff members and liabilities for the companies providing these inaccurately translated labels.

A good example of this was the Tianjin port disaster in 2015. A series of errors in technical documentation, along with misinterpreted instructions for handling and storage of chemicals at a Chinese warehouse, were partially responsible for a massive explosion that killed 173 people and caused $1.1 billion in total damages.

Whether these documents were translated by machine translation software or a translator who wasn’t a native speaker or did not comprehend the source language, this damage could possibly have been avoided had the company responsible hired a professional translator whose staff includes native speakers who are also subject matter experts.

How Inaccurate Chemical Technical Translations Can Affect The Scientific Process

Inaccurate chemical technical translations can result in a number of other negative consequences. These include:

  • Valuable chemicals and materials may need to be wasted and discarded because of mistranslated formulas or instructions.
  • Inaccurate chemical technical translations can create obstacles in the scientific process, as they make replication of experiments difficult or sometimes even impossible.
  • When translation mistakes are severe enough, resulting chemical combinations can become dangerous or deadly for staff members who need to follow precise instructions in a laboratory setting.

By investing in professional technical translation services, companies can help protect themselves against liability for accidents and injuries while ensuring greater productivity, decreased waste, and peace of mind in their day-to-day working environment.

Making this investment will help protect staff members and end users, ensure accurate information for all company stakeholders and products, and allow you a greater degree of success while reducing liability for your intended audience or target market.