When we look around construction job-sites, we see the diversity of our workforce. According to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 32.6 percent of workers in construction are Hispanic or Latino. This is great news, considering how often we hear from GCs that they appreciate their Hispanic and Latino employees because they genuinely want to work. Even if these workers don’t have a strong background in the trade, they bring an excellent work ethic.
Unfortunately, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), young Hispanic workers working for small construction trades are the most vulnerable to on-the-job injuries and fatalities. This means that as you consider your job-site safety culture, particular attention should be paid to Hispanic and Latino workers.
As an employer, you may notice that your Hispanic and Latino employees are putting themselves at unnecessary risk by not following the safety regulations you have outlined. Most likely this is because of cultural and communication gaps. Bridging these gaps is critical to your safety culture, but where do you start?
First, let’s look at why your messages aren’t getting through.
Hispanic and Latino workers frequently jump between jobs, which means that they may not be trained properly for each type of trade they practice. Smaller business owners are less likely to be as diligent with training and instead may just assume workers know what they’re doing. Further, high turnover rates can cause employers to rush to get jobs done and sacrifice safety for the sake of time. This allows workers to slip by without proper training — until an accident occurs.
Beyond a language barrier between English and Spanish speakers, consider the range of Spanish dialects on your job-site. Different countries speak different dialects — or variations — of Spanish. For example, Argentinian Spanish is different from Mexican Spanish. If you speak Mexican Spanish to an Argentinian person, he or she will probably not understand or pay close attention. This is an important consideration if you are relying on one Hispanic worker to serve as a translator for the entire job-site. Even basic, but critical, words like “stop” can have multiple translations.
There is also the issue of illiteracy. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, 63 percent of Hispanic immigrants have a literacy score “below basic.” Some of your Hispanic and Latino workers might not be able to understand the handouts you give them and won’t get the message.
Job-site Leadership and Interaction
According to a behavioral analysis of Mexico, the U.S., and China by Hofstede Insights, people of Mexican descent are more focused on power distance,masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance. These traits offer insight into why Hispanic and Latino workers may be less likely to speak up about a lack of training or unsafe conditions.
Power distance emphasizes that Mexican culture is hierarchical, and Mexican workers are likely to perceive themselves as subservient to higher-ranking staff on the job-site. This means that these workers may avoid addressing supervisors directly. It is very common for them to discuss issues among themselves without speaking up to leadership.
The emphasis on masculinity means these workers tend to focus on behaving in a way perceived as “manly” and are averse to asking for help, training, or more information. Similarly, uncertainty avoidance will keep someone from speaking up for fear of being fired. They would rather start a job without training than take the risk of being let go for being under-qualified.
Perspectives and Priorities
The study also found that Mexican people are less focused on long-term orientation and individualism. Many of them live in a day-to-day mindset and think in terms of the present rather than the future. In contrast, most employers are future-focused. The present-only mindset causes frustration when, for example, HR managers can’t sell their Hispanic employees on a 401K or long-term training.
Additionally, Mexican society is collectivistic, so family and community are more important to them than individual wants and needs. Leadership should think in terms of the group or family: How can you rally around teamwork or include your employees’ families in conversation?
Eight Ways to Facilitate More Effective Safety Training
With these cultural considerations in mind, you can take the following steps to help bridge the cultural gap between leadership and your Hispanic and Latino workers. Once your communication improves, you will be able to offer a safety culture that protects your workers and your business.
1. Be dedicated to your workers’ success. The more work you put into providing high-quality, measurable education and training to minimize risk, the better results you’ll get. Take the time to provide basic training to everyone — no matter how long they will be on your job-site.
2. Identify workplace influencers. After daily huddles, people will congregate around informal group leaders to ask questions. Make these leaders part of your successful safety culture by having them promote certain behaviors and convey information to the others. Equip these informal leaders with the tools and knowledge they need to influence your team.
3. Lead by example. Demonstrate the safe and accountable behavior that you want your employees to emulate by following safety regulations at all times. For example, if you want your team to wear hard hats, don’t show up to the site in a baseball cap. Leaders, or superintendents and foremen, set the tone in the workplace. If leaders don’t encourage employees to come forward with safety concerns, they will not do so.
4. Include families to accommodate collectivism. Make an effort to meet employees’ families and get to know them. Often the whole family will come to pick up the parent from work. Take advantage of these opportunities to show interest in their communities. Then, expand safety initiatives to involve them. You can illustrate the importance of safety to workers by applying hypothetical safety scenarios to their children in conversation.
5. Be sensitive to potential losses in translation. Dialectal variations can prevent workers from receiving the message you’re trying to send. Be sure to hire translators who have experience with the subject matter to prevent miscommunication, because words translated directly can have different meanings.
6. Ask employees to demonstrate their comprehension. If you ask employees whether they understand, they will say yes, regardless of whether they actually do. Have employees show you that they understand instead of telling you. This will guarantee full comprehension in the long run and will give you a chance to correct misconceptions as they are identified.
7. Include pictures in all materials to accommodate literacy problems. Use preventative language and provide contrasting visual examples of desired and prohibited behaviors.
It is critical that you acknowledge obstacles to successful safety training in order to implement solutions and help eliminate danger in your workplace. Don’t make assumptions, but ensure you provide your workers the resources they need to minimize risk. And make sure your workers understand the material.
By following these guidelines, you should be able to significantly decrease unnecessary accidents in your workplace, make things run more smoothly on a day-to-day basis, and cultivate a happier work environment.
Content reviewed and updated 8-2022.