The ladder is wobbling beneath the drywaller. The carpenter is hacking away at a 2x4 without saw protection. The mason is straining to lift a huge stack of bricks. The fact that these workers are Spanish-speaking subcontractors doesn't mean you're off the hook if one gets hurt. If it's your project, OSHA will ask about your safety training — for employees as well as for subs.
“Whoever is holding the purse has the most ability to enforce safety,” says Javier Arias, chairman of Hispanic Contractors Association de Tejas. Citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and others, Arias says that foreign-born Hispanic workers are at far greater risk of jobsite injuries and fatalities than U.S.-born workers, due mainly to lack of training and to cultural differences.
Several programs Arias has spearheaded in Texas could be models for safety training nationwide. Sponsored in part by Lowe's, these include one-day “Safety Fairs,” held in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, that have trained more than 2,000 Spanish-speaking construction workers since 2001. Attendees work in both commercial and residential construction, but plans are under way for training focused on residential safety. (Learn more at www.hcadetejas.org.)
For English-speaking remodelers hoping to raise safety awareness among Spanish-speaking crews, Arias says a key is to identify the leader. Hispanic workers tend to follow a chain of command, taking orders only from the boss. This person is often bilingual and should be easy to identify, Arias says; he'll probably speak for the group, or “he may be the guy who's providing the ride to work.” Don't just tell the leader what to do; invite him to participate in jobsite meetings and decision-making.
Pay deference to family, Arias adds. “Family is the No.1 priority for Hispanic workers.”
One reason for the success of Safety Fairs is that they're always held on Saturdays and include activities for the whole family, including crafts and play for los niños.