Firms turn to bilingual safety training
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 17, 2006

Yvette Armendariz

Valley businesses are increasingly turning to bilingual safety training in an effort to curb the growing number of work injuries and workplace deaths among Hispanics.

However, some workers and safety managers say much work is needed to get more companies to invest in such programs.

"It's a struggle sometimes, and it's unbelievable what some subcontractors won't do," said Eric Loring, director of safety for Turner Construction.
"They don't want to spend the time and money to give the proper training."
But gradually, he is seeing more companies change their ways thanks to a little pressure from big companies and the growth of Spanish-language workers.

Nationally, Hispanic worker injuries climbed 2.7 percent to 164,390 in 2004.
That same year, total worker injuries fell 4.3 percent to 1.26 million, according to data on private employers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Arizona, injuries and fatalities also increased among Hispanic workers.

The injuries have companies taking notice, particularly as the number of Hispanic foreign-born workers grows.

In construction, for example, 40 percent of new jobs in 2004 were filled by foreign-born Hispanic workers, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

One of five construction workers nationwide is foreign-born. Specific numbers for Arizona aren't available.

Similarly, one of four agricultural workers and one in every three grounds maintenance and housekeeping workers is a foreign-born Hispanic, according to Pew's Latino Labor Report 2004.

Companies in a variety of industries are creating bilingual safety manuals because of the growth of Spanish-speaking workers, said Harry Garewal, president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He reports getting regular calls for translation help.

The demand for bilingual training has SCF Arizona, the state's largest provider of workers' compensation insurance, working on a handbook of common construction phrases in Spanish, spokeswoman Christa Severns said. It recently added an interpreter on staff to help translate training materials.

But Spanish training isn't new for SCF, which has offered free bilingual safety videos to its customers for years.

"(Businesses) are very excited to know they are available," Severns said.
"No CEO, no safety director, no supervisor wants to make that call to an employee's loved one that they are not coming home today."

Which is why companies are seeking safety training help.

Ricardo Carlo, executive director of the Associated Minority Contractors of America chapter in Phoenix, sees companies offering English classes and having bilingual supervisors to bridge communication gaps.

Money is a motivator, too, Loring said.

In the Valley, many large contractors won't award a job to a subcontractor unless they offer safety training to workers. And if workers are more proficient in Spanish than in English, the law requires training to be in Spanish, Loring said.

But workers in the field don't always find training available or easy to understand.

Longtime construction worker Gabriel Luz said it's rare to find safety instructions translated into Spanish or to receive much training.

Luz, who works for a concrete block company, speaks limited English and is hoping his new employer is better than some of his past employers.

"Many don't worry about the worker," he said. "Most just want you to get to work on time."