As the primary elections heat up, it’s obvious that one of the “main” topics is Immigration. Regardless of the candidates’ views and future policies, we’ve had and continue to have a major problem with the latino workforce.
I do not mean a problem like the one that is in the media, I mean a problem with safety in the workplace. For many years we have seen the number of the latino workforce in the construction and other industries increase expeditiously. In the last decade, Hispanics accounted for a great deal of the non-fatal injuries.
There is multiple reasons that account for the staggering number of injuries. As Safety and Management professionals it is our jobs to find the reasons and combat them. for example, in other countries there is no sick days, and no injuries allowed. if you are injured and decide to go to get checked out, by the time you get back your forklift has been taken by the next strapping young body. it is our jobs to “reassure” them that’s now how things work and change the laid-back mentality.
However, that’s just one small example. The biggest problem we phase is the language barrier. Last year I was part of a project in Council Bluffs IA wherein we had about 3500-4000 employees. This project was classified as one of the largest ongoing construction projects in North America. Needless to say, a project of that magnitude attracts workers from all over the country, to include those only here temporarily or working on citizenship.
I had to learn all the buildings being built in the first month. Every week we had toolbox talks, in the buildings, every week I went to a different building. One thing that stuck out was the people in the back. Every building was the same. In the back of the toolbox circle, all the employees that understood little to no English at all. The project involved about 30 subcontractors, and about 35 total safety professionals throughout the project. Not one person translated the safety toolbox talks nor the concerns that were talked about. They signed in and were accounted for. After the meeting I asked what we just talked about and they couldn’t answer.
It’s not just that project, it happens everywhere, I was a consultant in Houston TX for a great company, I had nearly one hundred clients that all had the same issue. when I conducted OSHA or safety classes, same scenario was present for different companies and industries.
No matter what project I am involved in, or company, my first step is always the same. translate anything information we put out to the employees. The Toolbox talks are bilingual, the emergency signs are bilingual, most importantly, the training is bilingual. I need all the employees to know and really understand the hazards in the jobsite.
As safety professionals and/or management, we need to be aware of the employees who hide among the crowd, the ones that stand in the back behind the big guy so they’re not seen. There is no one to blame, but we (collectively) must try to ensure they are getting the same information as everyone else . It’s time to reach out for the stragglers, pull them in and start to drop the number of injuries.
the argument has always been brought to me by others, “if they want to work in this country, they better learn them some English”. It will never be that easy.
It has always been said that knowledge is power, if the knowledge of a safety hazard can keep employees out of the emergency room and our EMR rating down, then let’s empower the next generation of supervisors.