The 5(a)(1) General Duty Clause of the OSH Act clearly states that every employer shall provide a workplace and type of work free from all and any recognized health and safety hazards for all employees at all times. Despite the subjective success imposed by the OSHA standards, we have a startling new and rising, national epidemic of employee injuries, illnesses and deaths. The Hispanic worker is now the primary victim of workplace neglect and disrespect. They are currently the most disposable workforce, with many being treated every day as "consumables" regarding to their jobsite safety and health.
Hispanic Injury StatisticsFrom 1992 to 2000 U.S. injury/illness rates for all occupations dropped 31 percent with fatality rates decreasing just over 2 percent. For the same period, with 10.7 percent of the workforce non-English speaking, Hispanic fatality rates increased 11.6 percent to 815. In the construction industry this comprised 15 percent of all fatalities. In 2001 the Bureau of Labor Statistics figured the occupational injury/illness rate in this country was 5.7 per 100 workers. This amounts to over 30,000 injuries to construction workers. This represents a drop of 48 percent since 1973 due to the efforts of OSHA in enforcing their standards or the employer. The problem is clarified when we realize that by 2002 the fatality rate for Hispanic and Latino speaking construction workers has increased to 20 percent of the workforce. Unfortunately, this increase of over 9 percent per annum shows no immediate sign of reaching a plateau or dropping.
OSHA Makes a MoveIn 2000 OSHA established an emphasis program for the Hispanic workforce. The mission targets for this program include:
Establishing the first ever Hispanic Workers Taskforce
Dedicating a 24/7 hotline telephone number (800-321-OSHA) with Spanish-speaking operators available 8:00 am to 4:30 pm EST.
Creating a clearing house for Spanish training programs, videos and literature
Creating a Spanish-language OSHA Web site (www.osha.gov) link available for employers and employees
Offering a list of fluent, Spanish-speaking OSHA employees and contact numbers
Strengthening OSHA Area Office contacts with local police and emergency responders to get prompt referrals whenever a Spanish-speaking worker is injured in a work-related accident
Myth-busting and clarifying the governmental jurisdictions of OSHA and INS.
OSHA has also proposed some important changes to its accident investigation summary form (OSHA 170) filled out by compliance officers investigating a reported accident. Currently OSHA does not collect injury/illness data concerning the affected worker's ethnicity or citizenship status. The proposed changes recommend including several questions about the worker's ethnicity and language capabilities in order for OSHA "to determine if there is a nexus between language, cultural barriers and employee's injuries."
All of these governmental efforts do not come without a price tag. In his 2004 budget request to the House Appropriations Committee, John Henshaw requested and Congress approved $450 million with $2.3 million targeting outreach training and assistance to non-English-speaking workers. An additional $1.5 million was dedicated to assist small businesses with a predominantly large percentage earmarked for employers with Hispanic employees. These numbers are expected to rise in the fiscal year 2005 budget request.
On July 22, 2004, OSHA held its first annual Hispanic Labor Summit in Orlando, Fla. Contributing members included the Department of Labor, OSHA, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), U.S. Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Hispanic Alliance for Progress and various other civic and community ethnic groups and organizations. Many other satellite state-level alliances have spun off this summit, such as the following:
The Hispanic Construction Forum (Raleigh, N.C., Nov. 5, 2004) was presented entirely in Spanish involving many Hispanic news publications and community organizers as well as the Mexican consulate.
The Houston Home Builders Association, in conjunction with the Houston OSHA area office, has sponsored trade-specific, Spanish-language safety training for Hispanic workers in the roofing, masonry, labor, trenching and farming trades. Seven of Houston's largest residential contractors have joined in partnership since January 2005.
Many Southern states have a predominantly Hispanic labor workforce and as a result OSHA has developed Local Emphasis Programs in such states with high Hispanic employment (Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi).
In 1999 OSHA established, through its Hispanic Task Force, the Construction Accident Reduction Emphasis (CARE) in Florida to help control the most hazardous conditions exposed to construction workers in the state: trench collapse (reduced 15 percent), electrocution from overhead power lines (reduced 60 percent); and roofing falls (reduced 30 percent).
OSHA's Regional Hispanic Worker's Outreach Program includes Region II (New York and New Jersey). This program had several mandates: organize Spanish-speaking community organizations and churches representing many immigrant groups; work with the New Jersey Puerto Rican Congress to protect all workers' rights, regardless of immigrant status; ally with the Archdiocese of New Jersey; work with the DOL's Wage and Hour Division of Union Needle Trades, Industrial & Textile Employees to address not only pay benefits but also health and safety conditions for workers in the apparel industries; and develop outreach curriculums for N.Y. and N.J. middle and high schools to prepare students for the safety and health regulations of the workplace.
OSHA and NAFTA have combined forces to consider drafting a 10-hour construction safety-training program with Mexico, Canada and the United States to offer the Hispanic workers who cross the border a comparable and current safety and health training background, regardless of his immigrant status.
Many of these organizations have come to realize that as a group, the
Hispanic construction worker appears to have serious educational and cultural difficulties to overcome as well as language barriers. Research and analysis of non-English speaking construction workers indicate that many originate for the poorest districts of Central America and Mexico. Attending school was never an option in the economically depressed regions of their country of origin. Retaining this workforce with their severely limited educational backgrounds and defining "adequate" safety and health training as an occasional, technical "toolbox" talk in a foreign language can only result in injury, illness and death for many of these workers.
Hispanic OutreachOSHA has made immigrant workplace safety a priority in 2005 in order to offset the almost 35 percent rise in workplace fatalities since 1995 among Hispanic construction workers. Access to many of these resource programs can be easily made through links found on the OSHA Web site (www.osha.gov). Most importantly, the employer of a Hispanic worker can easily access the Hispanic Employers and Workers Compliance Assistance Web page, which includes OSHA en Espanol, Spanish Electronic Compliance Assistance tools (e-tools), and Spanish-language publications. There are also handy English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English dictionaries that have over 400 general OSHA construction safety and health terms, complete with phonetic pronunciation guides for the language-challenged.
Perhaps the most useful item for the employer of Hispanic workers on the Web site is the Compliance Assitance Quickstart module. It is a simple, online tool designed to easily identify OSHA's seven steps to compliance for non-English-speaking employees.
Step 1: Employer and Employee Workplace Rights and ResponsibilitiesHere the employer may access all of the rights and obligations for himself and his employees stipulated under the OSH Act of 1970. You may download many bilingual items such as the Act itself, the brochure "All About OSHA," the OSHA poster and all of OSHA's most current recordkeeping forms.
Step 2: OSHA Outreach Resources for Spanish-speaking EmployeesHere the employer may learn about various resources printed in English and
Spanish, including: e-tools for construction trades; ergonomic hazard identification and prevention; Spanish language publications; various cooperative alliance and partnership programs for the construction trades; OSHA consultation programs to assist the contractor in developing his own safety and health program; and a list of all regional OSHA Hispanic/English-as-a-Second-Language coordinators to facilitate the employer's programs and answer any questions.
Step 3: OSHA Spanish-Language Training ResourcesOSHA's Office of Training and Education mandates that the OSHA Training
Institute offer employers a wide selection of Spanish safety and health literature, online e-tools, and videos to assist in training. It also includes a list of region and area offices and their Hispanic/English-As-A-Second-Language coordinators.
Step 4: Where to Find OSHA Training Requirements and How they Apply to Spanish-speaking EmployeesThere are many OSHA standards that explicitly require the employer to train employees in the safety and health aspects of their jobs. This section assists the employer in finding the relevant links to OSHA training provisions in "Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines" particularly for Spanish-speaking employees.
Step 5: How to Work Cooperatively with OSHA to Reach Your EmployeesWithout OSHA's leadership in this matter, I doubt if the American construction industry would ever take significant steps in protecting the uneducated Hispanic workforce. Their pay scale being significantly lower than native workers in this country, it is simply a case of laying off an injured, hourly Hispanic worker and replacing him/her with another potential victim of neglect. OSHA has a variety of cooperative programs to assist the employer in bringing his Hispanic workforce into compliance. It is allied with the National Hispanic Outreach Alliance to offer consultation and assistance. The Associated General Contractors, various state small business development centers and OSHA have developed various state-run programs to meet the needs of states with high Hispanic worker populations. There are a number of grants providing translation and consultation, such as the Texas Workers Compensation Commission's Safety and Health Library listing many Spanish-language courses, videos and brochures.
Step 6: Contacts at OSHA for Additional Hispanic Outreach InformationOSHA has designated 10 regional Hispanic/English-as-a-Second-Language coordinators around the country to assist employers with outreach training and consultation necessary to bring their workforce into compliance. These coordinators also serve as liaison to OSHA's Hispanic Taskforce. OSHA also provides a directory of national, regional and state-plan contacts within the Hispanic outreach module. These contacts can assist the interested employer in completing these seven steps to compliance.
Step 7: Where to Find Additional Spanish-language Outreach MaterialsThis is an extremely important and useful outlet for more links to organizations designed to help the employer in his quest for an educated Hispanic workforce. The Department of Labor also includes the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), whose efforts co-joined with OSHA in the late 1990s to identify Hispanic workers at risk in the mines. There are also dozens of other links to additional resources in Spanish available on this Web site.
ConclusionNot all employers are negligent in their comprehensive and refresher employee training, but as you read this article, there are hundreds of construction employers who are assuming that their Hispanic workforce is being properly and adequately supervised and trained by their foremen on the job. It is good advice to take stock of your non-English-speaking workforce immediately. Get your foreman and supervisors trained and OSHA-compliant regarding the special needs of their Hispanic workers.
If you do not currently hire Hispanic employees you should consider a future organization where their employment could be inevitable. Everything important takes time to implement, so don't be in a rush to learn construction Spanish. While training Hispanic workers in the OSHA standards should never be considered a race, the employer should understand the time-sensitive constraints on such a Hispanic outreach training program. Your Hispanic and bilingual employees should be assured that their health and safety are at least as important as their manual contributions every shift. Employers who conduct themselves with a responsible ethic concerning their non-English-speaking workforce and their ability to work safely will still be successful in their competitive bidding well into the next decade.