Working as a Safety Manager in the construction industry comes with many challenges. There is always the challenge of getting personnel to follow not only the OSHA regulations, but also the more stringent “best practices” required by our company. One of the most significant challenges is communicating the regulations to personnel who speak and read English as a second language or not at all.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s (BLS) in 2014, 27% of all construction workers were Latino. This number also correlates to the percentage of fatalities in a negative manner. For example, in 2011, according to BLS Latinos made up 24% of the construction workforce and 26% of fatalities, in 2012 the number of employees maintained at 24% but the number of fatalities increased to 26%, in 2013, according to BLS, Latino’s accounted for 25.5% of construction workforce and 29% of fatalities. The number of employees and fatalities have been steadily increasing annually for Latino workers.
Per Emily Peiffer, https://www.constructiondive.com/news/latino-worker-fatality-rate…at…/380900/, April 08, 2015, “the rate of Latino construction worker fatalities on job sites continued to increase disproportionately to their population of the total industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This surge, coinciding with a declining fatality rate for non-Latinos, has led industry professionals to seek out the root of the problem and search for solutions.” In this article, it was determined that a major root cause of the fatalities of the Latino workers is that they do not understand what is being put out as the safety meetings. To this end, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dictates “an employer must instruct its employees using both a language and vocabulary that the employees can understand.” Unfortunately, as you can tell by the statistics, this either has not happened or has not happened effectively.
One of the things that I have recognized through the years as a Safety Manager, is that persons from other countries, no matter the country or language, will nod their head that they understand what is being said even when they do not understand any English. You need to ask them questions to verify that what you are trying to get across is not only listened to but understood. Many times, they will say they understand what you are saying when they clearly do not because in their culture, it is not ok to question the boss. This cultural difference and the language barrier directly contribute to the fatality rates.
In conclusion, when you have non-English speaking employees, it is your responsibility to ensure that they have required safety training in a language that they understand. This is the law as well as a moral responsibility. As most Safety Managers are taught, “fatalities do not correlate to the age or experience but due to lack of safety training.” We as Safety Manager need to work to lower the fatality rates for all employees, not just the ones that speak English.