Ramón didn’t understand. He said he did but he didn’t. He said he did because he wanted to make his supervisor happy. Making his supervisor happy cost him his life. Making his supervisor happy cost his family their husband, their father, their provider.

Some experts estimate that the ratio of Latino accident rates to Anglo accident rates is as high as 8-to-1. In other words, if there were 100 Anglos and 100 Latinos on the job site, on average, for every one Anglo who gets hurt, eight Latinos would get hurt. I did not conduct that particular study but even if the ratio were 4-to-1, which is about the lowest I have seen, it is way out of proportion.

Every conference I have been in for the construction industry focuses on fall protection. This is important but with such a tight focus on this one area, we miss some other very important areas in which we should be doing safety training, especially among the Latino populace.

There are four different types of safety training you should incorporate into your training processes: job site safety, vehicle safety, mental safety and health safety.

Before I explore these topics, I want to make clear that my goal is not to create or reinforce stereotypes but rather to point out statistical trends that you can use to help you guide your company’s safety training policies. I’d also like to remind you of one very important consideration: Latinos need to be reminded constantly to stay safe for their families. While surveys show most Latino laborers do not value their own personal safety as much as they should, they do, however, value their families and their responsibility to provide for their families. All safety training of Latinos should tie the primary motivator to the provision for family.

Muy bien, let’s get started.



JOB SITE SAFETY

This is the one we most frequently think about. In many aspects of the construction industry, we are primarily concerned about fall protection.

Let’s face it. Some people are afraid of heights. Some people who work for you every day on the roof are afraid of heights. They shouldn’t be there. Respect is one thing; fear is another. Fear makes people nervous. Nervous people don’t perform well in challenging situations.

One of the best suggestions I can give you is to make sure before you hire someone to work on the roof or scaffolding that the person is respectful but not fearful of heights. I have interviewed several roofing company owners on this subject and most tell me that they honestly don’t know who is afraid of heights before they hire them.

Principle No. 1 is, “Don’t hire people with a fear of heights.” You must test this with employees before you hire them. You can ask them, and you can design a series of questions that would give you strong indicators one way or the other. You could take prospective employees up on a roof before you hire them (as long as you have the proper insurance coverage) and see how they respond to the environment. Watch how they walk, watch their eyes. If they seem a bit reluctant, a bit nervous, a bit fearful, do you really want to take this risk? The bottom line with Latinos, as with all workers who must perform high elevation work, is to find out before you hire them if they have a fear of heights. If they do, don’t hire them. They are an accident waiting to happen.

You most likely know more than I do about the actual ins and outs of fall protection. You most likely know OSHA’s requirements better than I do. The key question is this: How do you translate your knowledge to your employees? The answer is simple-in their language.

When I say, “in their language,” I mean two things: First, whoever is training them must speak Spanish. Second, you must understand their cultural language. You need to learn about machismo in the Latin society. You must learn how to counteract it. You must learn about how classism and peer pressure work in the Latino labor culture. You are their leader and you cannot lead unless you truly understand them.

The scope of this article does not allow me to go into detail regarding these matters but I want to get you thinking. Do you study your people culturally? Do you understand what truly motivates them? Do you speak their language? You cannot properly teach jobsite safety if you don’t.

One more thing here: Do not simply have any Juan Doe teach safety for you. This is far too important to have your information simply translated by someone who may or may not have good communication skills and good rapport with your workers. Find someone who knows safety and can communicate well.



VEHICLE SAFETY

Have you ever driven in Latin America or the Caribbean? It’s different, very different. People are much more aggressive on the roads and take a lot of risks that you don’t typically see in the United States.

This affects you because accident rates are higher among Latinos in ratio to the overall population. Seat belt use is also lower among Latinos, making Latinos more likely to experience a serious injury in the event of an accident.

So, if you look at the statistics, what do you have? You have a populace that drives more aggressively and doesn’t wear seat belts as frequently. Not a very good mix, to say the least. It’s a crazy world we live in but you need to be aware of these things because this puts your people at more danger.

So, you need to conduct vehicle safety training with your employees. You need to explain to them how to respond to a police officer if stopped. You need to help them understand how seat belts keep people safe for their families, and you need to make sure they understand how important their driving habits are to the image of your company.

Several months ago, I was speaking with a high-level manager of a construction products-related distribution company. I asked him if the driving records of his Latino drivers were any different than those of their Anglo counterparts. His immediate answer was “No, they’re about the same.” I asked him if he had the accident report from the previous month. He did. I asked him to read me the last names on the report. The majority of the names weren’t Smith and Jones. They were more like Ramirez, Santos, González, etc.

Teach and preach vehicle safety to all of your employees, and take special care with your Latino people.





MENTAL SAFETY

In the mental health field, it’s accepted wisdom that how a person thinks greatly affects his health, both mentally and physically. Let’s get out of our heads that the only thing we are training is physical safety. What good is a body without a sound mind?

A good safety training program will consistently weave in training about how to think properly. This training ranges from instilling a “success” mentality to training people how to properly evaluate their decisions.

Another type of mental safety training crucial for the Latino populace is cultural adjustment training. The move from one culture to another creates a lot of mental stress. Do you actively teach your people how to adjust successfully to living in a new country? When you consider that 81 percent of construction jobs offered to Latinos in 2005 and 2006 went to foreign-born Latinos, you begin to understand that your workforce needs this type of training. This is especially true if you have been hiring new help in the last several years.

Stress-related diseases are real. Stress causes cancer, ulcers and other diseases, as well as poor decision making. A mentally stressed out worker is a danger to himself and others around him. I think every company should have a licensed counselor or psychologist come in and speak to their people at least once a quarter. This just makes good sense. Most companies do not train mental safety but they should.



HEALTH SAFETY

Although lack of training in any of the three aforementioned areas will cause health problems, I am referring here to another set of problems when I refer to health safety. Here I am specifically referring to organic diseases and their prevention.

Did you know that the incidence rate of diabetes and arthritis are both much higher in the Latino community than in the general populace? This is primarily due to eating habits and obesity. Now, I am aware that most construction workers are not overweight but the numbers don’t lie, and the tendencies for these types of diseases are very strong in the Latino population.

As I indicated previously, my purpose here is not to create or perpetuate stereotypes. My purpose is to get you to educate your people regarding these dangers.

OK, this was an attempt to outline safety training with the Latino community in broad strokes. If you would like to learn more about safety in the Latino community, simply write me an e-mail message at the address below and put in the subject line “Latino Safety in Construction.” I’ll send you a free special report on the subject. I think you will find it very helpful, as it will give you many supplemental resources and additional instruction in this area.

Let me close with this: It is the job of every business leader to ensure the safety of his people. Do you take this goal seriously-at least as far as the four areas outlined in this article? I sincerely hope so. W&C