The American workplace continues to evolve and workplace safety for non-English speaking employees is paramount. Stakeholders running an effective workers’ compensation program need to be aware of this issue and implement policy to ensure workplace safety.
The American Workforce – By the Numbers
America has always been a land of opportunity for people with many backgrounds. In the past, immigration was mainly driven by European populations seeking a fresh start. Times have changed. This now includes shifting immigration patterns with people from Africa, Asia, and Latin American countries coming to the United States in search of a dream.
Unlike immigration in the past, newer immigrants are not dropping their native language for English. This presents a challenge to employers as they seek to promote a workplace that reduces work injuries. Now is the time to act.
Workplace Injuries and Hispanic Populations
The American Society of Safety Professionals has paid particular attention to workplace safety for non-English speaking Hispanic employees who may generally speak Spanish as their primary language. Studies indicate the following characteristics:
- Nearly 70% of Hispanic employees who died in the American workplace were born outside the United States;
- Hispanic immigrants account for over 20% of the construction workforce in the United States. These are jobs that require employees to work at heights and use safety equipment to prevent falls. Impacted industries include roofing, ironworkers, and other physical labor positions. A common denominator in these fatal incidents is workers not using proper equipment, work practices used in their native country (or by custom), or not being trained in the use of required equipment; and
- Employees identified as Hispanic account for 15% of all fatal injuries – a rate of 3.7 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) employee, compared to a rate of 3.5 per 100,000 FTE for workers as a whole.
Avoiding Workplace Stigmas
All interested stakeholders in the workers’ compensation system should ensure employees, especially those who do not speak English as a primary language, are treated with respect and dignity. This is an opportunity to put aside differences of opinion people have regarding immigration (legal and illegal) and make sure employers step up when it comes to making the workplace safe, and ensuring work injuries are reported in a timely manner. In sum, one’s immigration status should never serve as a barrier to denying workers’ compensation benefits. This is a policy decision best left to state legislatures, and not one’s personal preference.
Taking the Next Step – Creating a Positive Work Environment
The first step to ensure workplace safety for non-English speaking employees is making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to employment practices, and safety education. Steps interested stakeholders should consider can including:
- Hiring safety individuals that speak multiple languages. If an employer has a significant number of Spanish speakers on staff, efforts should be made to have a safety professional who is fluent in that language;
- Educate non-English-speaking employees on proper safety standards and procedures. This includes creating materials in other languages and reinforcing these best practices in the field; and
- Involve all interested stakeholders in the safety process. This includes management, and organized labor. It is important to lead by example!
Additional attention needs to be geared toward employees who generally work as day laborers. These are people who typically work for someone for a short period of time – sometimes only a few hours on occasion. People involved in the workers’ compensation system can also ensure these employees understand the system, know how to report a work injury, avoid common errors such as working for employers without insurance coverage, and engaging in safe work activities.
The changing American workforce places many demands on employers and employees. One such change is to ensure workplace safety for non-English-speaking employees in the workplace. Now is the time to get engage and ensure these workers understand the process, receive proper safety training, and have access to resources to promote a better work environment
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.
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