Last week I presented a session at the 69th Annual Wisconsin Safety & Health Conference. In the US, there are approximately 50 million Latinos – one in six Americans (and 1 in 4 children!) – and the Hispanic population accounts for over half of US population growth in the last decade. I shared some eye-opening statistics, such as the following:
- 14 people die every day at work.
- The workplace fatality rate among Latinos is 13.5% higher than for US workers overall.
- Of the 11,303 Latino workers who died from work-related injuries from 2003-2006, 34% worked in construction.
Why is the fatality rate so much higher among Latinos? For starters, Latino immigrants work in high-risk jobs, such as construction, at a higher rate than the general population. Then there’s the language barrier. Approximately 65% of low-wage immigrant workers are Limited English Proficient (LEP), and not surprisingly, OSHA estimates that over a quarter of workplace injuries are attributable to the language barrier.
But it’s not just language; it’s culture, too. Among Latino immigrants, safety is often viewed through a different lens. Back home, there are far fewer government inspections of work sites, and in the event of a violation, a bribe often makes it go away. Workers may be required to risk their safety, as workers are often perceived is dispensable. Is this in every work site? Of course not. But it’s not uncommon.
In the US, these workers often fear that a complaint about unsafe work conditions or a request for personal protective equipment would cause them to lose their job. And what about reporting workplace injuries? There is the same concern. Moreover, for undocumented workers, a fear of deportation frequently serves as further motivation to quietly self-treat injuries that should be reported and treated. There’s also the perception that safety regulations exist to protect American-born workers, who aren’t as “tough,” as well as the perception that the government doesn’t truly care about immigrant workers and their well-being.
So what can you do to improve the safety of your workplace? Some suggestions:
- Ensure that safety materials are reader-friendly and translated into the language(s) of your workforce. But that’s not enough: lower levels of literacy mean that you need to be sure to then train people – in their language – to ensure that these procedures and policies are understood. This can be done by hiring an interpreter or by using a bilingual supervisor.
- Consider offering job-specific English as a Second Language training. This will help improve safety, productivity and engagement, and it will also help increase your pool of internal promotion candidates.
- Consider offering job-specific Spanish training (as well as other languages of your workplace). With a focus on safety expressions and other key vocabulary, your managers will significantly increase their communication skills while at the same time developing your employees’ trust.
Workplace safety is too important to cut corners. Don’t let things get lost in translation!
-Jill Kushner Bishop, PhD