Firms turn to bilingual safety training
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 17, 2006
Valley businesses are increasingly turning to bilingual safety training in an
effort to curb the growing number of work injuries and workplace deaths among
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
But workers in the field don't always find training available or easy to
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