July 21, 2009

Making Safety a Universal Language

The following article is a guest post by Joey Lucia, a loss prevention supervisor at Austin-based Texas Mutual Insurance Co., the largest provider of workers' compensation insurance in Texas.

Non-English-speaking Hispanic workers present unique safety challenges.

Picture this: It's your first day on the job with a construction crew. Your boss asks you to help lay a foundation for an office building. High above, another worker is walking along a scaffold. He accidentally kicks a hammer off the scaffold, and you're directly below it.

Fortunately, your company embraces a "total safety" culture. In a "total safety" culture, employees look out for one other. Everyone is accountable for not only their own safety but also their co-workers' safety.

With that in mind, someone yells, "¡Cuidado, el martillo se puede cáer sobre ti!" Your co-worker warned you to get out of the way. If you didn't understand Spanish, you might have been involved in a serious accident.

In 2006, Hispanic workers died at a rate that was 25 percent higher than all other workers in the United States, according to a study published last year in Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report. As of 2006, nearly 20 million workers in this country were Hispanic, making them one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. workforce.

Here are some tips for keeping non-English-speaking Hispanic workers safe. Follow the ones that fit your business, and you can help make your workplace safer and more productive.

Challenge: language
Language can be a barrier to communication, even among people who speak the same language. Imagine how hard it is for Hispanic workers who speak little or no English.

Solutions

  • Use more pictures and fewer words to point out hazards and teach safety procedures.
  • Most communication is nonverbal. Watch workers' eyes, body language and expressions to see whether they understand instructions.
  • Train supervisors in basic, conversational Spanish. Send non-English-speaking Hispanic workers to a conversational English class. Focus on commonly used words in your industry.
  • Hire Spanish-speaking supervisors who have experience in your industry.
  • Ask bilingual employees to translate safety messages.
  • If you have training requirements, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates that you provide them in a language that workers can understand. Hire a translation company to put safety training material into Spanish. Make sure the translator is fluent in the Spanish dialects spoken by your employees.
Challenge: literacy
Many Hispanic workers do not have the luxury of pursuing their education because they have to help support their families. About 40 percent of Hispanics age 25 and up do not have a high school diploma, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By comparison, about 14 percent of the total U.S. population does not have a high school diploma.

Solutions:

  • Keep training basic.
  • Provide simple, hands-on safety demonstrations.
  • Do not let employees start work until they show that they understand the training.
  • Provide follow-up training, and be sure to address new workplace hazards.
Challenge: fear
Have you ever been afraid of asking a question in front of a large group of people? Imagine asking it in a different language. Non-English-speaking Hispanic workers may put themselves at risk because they're too embarrassed to ask questions about safety procedures. Some may even fear for their jobs if they report unsafe working conditions.

Solutions

  • Encourage every employee to report unsafe conditions.
  • Offer safety training away from the workplace. If the trainer is someone other than a manager, employees may be less intimidated and more likely to ask questions.
  • Make sure non-English-speaking Hispanic workers have peers they feel comfortable talking to.
  • Deliver the safety message to employees in their environment. For example, distribute Spanish-language safety training material at community functions.
  • Reward safe behavior in front of co-workers.
  • Take time to learn about your Hispanic workers and their culture.

Past blog posts that relate to this topic:
Safety for Spanish-speaking workers must address cultural as well as language barriers
Keeping the multicultural workforce safe
Qualified interpreters can save lives
Hispanic Fatalities on the job: the Tip of the Iceberg
When it comes to safety, make sure you speak the same language!
Mandatory English at the workplace?

| 2 Comments

2 Comments

Julie:

The biggest factor would be not to hire illegal aliens which dominate Texas construction. But that would be asking employers to place the law in front of profit.

For those interested in this topic, check out Oregon OSHA's PESO program, which provides educational safety materials in both English and Spanish. Of particular interest is "Cultures, Languages & Safety," which shows how to deliver effective training to Spanish speaking workers.

http://orosha.org/educate/peso.html

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This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on July 21, 2009 3:05 PM.

Injured Jocks and Medical Costs was the previous entry in this blog.

Hot off the presses: Health Wonk Review; other WC news notes is the next entry in this blog.

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