June 2006                 Volume 45,  Issue 5

A Safety Net

The Importance of Safety in a Diverse Workforce
by Samantha Carpenter

Census Says Hispanic Is ...
The Bureau of the Census defines Hispanics as follows: People who identify with the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the Census 2000 questionnaire—”Mexican,” “Puerto Rican,” or “Cuban”—as well as those who indicate that they are “other Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino.” Origin can be considered as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.

The Department of Labor reports that the population of the United States will grow by about 50 percent by the year 2050, increasing from its current 275 million to approximately 394 million people. 

The make-up of that projected population will have significant impact on the available workforce. In 1995, the U.S. population was approximately 73.6 percent Caucasian, 12 percent African American, 10.2 percent Hispanic, 3.3 percent Asian and Pacific Islander, and 0.7 percent American Indian. 

A Fast-Growing Minority
Hispanics are the fasting growing minority in the country. Projections for 2050 show a population of 52.8 percent Caucasian, 24.5 percent Hispanic, 13.6 percent African American, 8.2 percent Asian and Pacific Islander, and 0.9 percent American Indian.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, “Hispanics and whites perform different types of work in the labor market. Moreover, the occupational divide between the two largest segments in the labor force appear to be widening.”

In a recent study by the center called, “The Occupational Status and Mobility of Hispanics,” one of the key findings of the study was that Hispanics are concentrated in non-professional, service occupations, such as building and ground cleaning and maintenance and food preparation and service.

With the number of Hispanics growing in our country’s population and particularly within the construction and building products industry, one question is how to keep the worksite safe, especially if language is a barrier.

Reaching Out Successfully
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made workplace safety a priority within the agency and is committed to identifying ways to improve safe and health of immigrants and other hard-to-reach workers, according to OSHA information.

OSHA has identified a number of companies that have had success with Hispanic outreach.
In planning a $2.7 billion expansion project of the Dallas/Ft. Forth International Airport, its board of directors wanted to assure the safety of all construction and airport employees. As part of the loss prevention program design, actuaries provided disturbing predictions regarding injuries and deaths that could be anticipated for the size and type of construction projects considered for the expansion program.

In addition, the construction industry in North Texas has a large number of Spanish-speaking workers. These workers were experiencing a high number of fatalities and injuries at construction projects.

With the help of the area’s two largest prime contractors—Hensel Phelps Construction Co. and Austin Commercial L.P.—a mandatory 40-hour safety training program was developed and implemented on the airport project. 

The project, which was to build a two million-square-foot international terminal building and the world’s largest airport train system, included classes presented in English and Spanish with the individual students choosing which language class they would attend. Classes conducted in Spanish had one-half day dedicated to teaching students how to say basic construction tool names and terms in English. In the English-language classes, students were taught how to communicate basic construction tool names and terminology in Spanish. 

After nearly five years of work was completed in 2005, the contractors reported no fatalities. 

Another company that has worked hard to implement a safety program consisted of Hispanic workers is Torcon Inc. of Westfield, N.J. The company, which is a non-residential general building contractor, recognized the trend towards employing more Hispanics.

The company requires contractor supervisors to be bi-lingual on jobsites that employ Hispanics, eliminating the need for interpreters. Site safety orientation is conducted in both English and Spanish, and the written orientation materials are in both languages.

The company also has Spanish versions of health and safety training videos, posters and emergency evacuation procedures. In addition to providing bi-lingual training to its own employees, the company mandates that all its contractors conduct weekly, bi-lingual safety meetings (called Tool Box Safety Talks) and provide the company with proof that the contractor’s employees attended.

Since Torcon implemented these programs and requirements in 2001, the company has experienced an estimated 30 percent decrease in injuries at its jobsites because its Spanish-speaking workers are better trained in safety and health. 

But safety training involving non-English speaking employees shouldn’t be isolated to construction worksites. Manufacturers can communicate more with Spanish-speaking employees, too.

Rinker Materials Corp. of West Palm Beach, Fla., manufactures products for the building products industry. Its plant in Frederick, Md., used interpreters to communicate with its Spanish-speaking employees during weekly safety training meetings, but the company’s management believed that a more direct method of communication with its employees would be more efficient and better demonstrate its commitment to safety. 

Bob McDonnell, the safety coordinator at the company’s Maryland facility, redesigned the weekly safety presentation to better communicate with Spanish-speaking employees. He photographed various processes in the plant, staging both safe and unsafe practices, and then incorporated the photographs into PowerPoint presentations for the weekly safety meetings. 

The photos were simply labeled in both English and Spanish to indicate whether or not the practice is safe.

While these success stories are from larger building-related companies, these examples can be adapted to small- and medium-sized building products companies. 

Samantha Carpenter is editor of SHELTER magazine.


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