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Do You Speak English?

Do You Speak English?

By: Luis F. Pieretti, MS, USF SafetyFlorida Safety and Health Consultant, with contributions from Pat Stark, CHST, USF SafetyFlorida Safety and Health Consultant

Luis Pieretti_web

Luis Pieretti

Imagine this situation:

Safety Manager: “ … and this concludes our safety training. Do you understand all the requirements about electrical safety?

Trainees: “Yes.”

Safety Manager: “Okay. If you have any questions, just let me know.

Trainees: “Yes.”

Safety Manager: “Where is your supervisor?”

Trainees: “Yes.”

This language barrier is a reality many U.S. businesses face. A CDC report shows that from 1992 until 2006, there were 11,303 U.S. work-related Hispanic deaths. This number constitutes 11% of the total work-related deaths in the U.S. for that period of time. From 2003 to 2006, the state of Florida ranked third in the U.S. with the highest number of Hispanic work-related deaths: 417. While the 2008 Hispanic population of Florida was 21%, there was a disproportionately high 2008 Hispanic workplace fatality rate of 25%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It is correct to assume the language barrier can increase the risk of occupational injuries. How can the Hispanic worker protect him or herself if they don’t know or understand what they are to do? Let’s take Hazard Communication training as an example. It is required that every employee should know the hazards associated with the chemicals used in their workplace, the labeling system and how to locate and read a MSDS. If the employer doesn’t have a bilingual worker on their staff, the company will probably rely on safety videos, or general presentations about hazard communication in Spanish. Will these videos or presentations cover the specific hazards associated with the chemicals of your workplace? If there is an accidental ingestion of the chemical, will the Hispanic worker know if he or she should induce vomit? Do they know which chemicals at your facility are not compatible? As an employer responsible for the health and safety of all your employees, you may want to go the extra mile by providing specific on-site training versus relying exclusively on presentations or videos for safety trainings.

Not understanding English is always a suspect in determining the cause of death of an Hispanic worker, but there may be other factors we should consider. Most Hispanic workers left their country of origin to work in the United States. It means that most of them left behind parents, wives, husbands, sons, friends and their environment to work in a place with a different language, food and climate to have a better life here or to send money back to their loved ones. Many made sacrifices to get a job and will do “anything” to keep their jobs and get the work done. And it is the “anything” part that drives many Hispanic workers to engage in unsafe behaviors at the workplace. These unsafe behaviors can be avoided if the person in charge (supervisor, foreman, leader), ensures that every employee follows safe work practices. These practices apply to any worker, regardless of background. That’s why it is very important that supervisors/foremen/leaders actively participate in your safety and health programs.

Safety practices should benefit everyone regardless of language. Let us help you overcome any language barriers your company might face. In addition to offering a library of videos in Spanish on a wide variety of safety topics, we also have bilingual health and safety consultants. Give us a call today.