Baton Rouge , Louisiana — On February 16, 2010, a Southland Steel Fabricators construction worker suffered a fatal traumatic brain injury, while another worker sustained minor injuries when both fell 20 feet to the ground after the lift they stood upon was struck by a beam. It would seem reasonable to assume that with the advent of modern construction equipment and building techniques that fewer and fewer workers should suffer injury on the job. Sadly, this is not the case.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) 1,178 fatal work injuries occurred in the construction industry in 2007–the most of any industry–with laborers accounting for the largest number of fatal work injuries among construction occupations. And while overall workplace fatalities may have dropped 20 percent in the last decade, workplace fatalities among Hispanic workers—especially those working in the construction industry—have actually risen almost 35 percent in the same period!
These reports indicate that the Hispanic workforce is growing strong in this country and that employers need to recognize the importance of adapting their training programs and methods to create a safety culture among the Hispanic employees in order to reduce the amount of accidents and fatalities which may be attributed to a lack of proper training, poor training methods or language barriers.
Language and cultural barriers, workplace discrimination, and a limited understanding of workplace safety issues are the leading causes for injuries and death among Hispanic workers.
The new worker:
The majority of immigrant workers are good, hard workers, but from the safety point of view, the Hispanic immigrant worker represents a completely new challenge to the industry. Based on my own experiences during the years that I have spent training and managing Hispanics the following characteristics have been observed:
- Most, or none, have never received safety & health training.
- Some can barely read either Spanish or English.
- Bilingual supervisors, who themselves lack proper safety training, explain hazards to workers.
- The need to provide for their family outweighs the danger of placing themselves in harm’s way of an accident or injury.
- When there are safety concerns, most are afraid to talk to OSHA
Language and cultural barriers
- More frequent employment in the more dangerous trades
But there is a solution. The following strategies can help employers in training for safety and workplace compliance for their bilingual workforce:
- Establish companywide safety policies and communicate it at all levels of the Hispanic workforce. The training must be given in Spanish and at a level all can understand.
- Ensure supervisors are bilingual.
- Provide ESL (English as a second language) and Spanish classes for employees.
- Ensure that signage (safety guidelines, emergency evacuation, warnings, etc.) is provided in Spanish and include diagrams or symbols.
- Conduct regular safety meetings, using role-playing and safety sign recognition as ways for the Hispanic workforce to develop and maintain a safety conscious workplace.
But above all, it’s a genuine effort to connect that matters. Your sincere efforts to communicate will create a lasting and positive impression with non-English speaking Hispanic employees.
To learn WORKPLACE SPANISH and view other available language courses, please visit: www.bilingualcare.com .