North Carolina Department of Labor officials are hitting the road in a mobile classroom known as Labor One. State labor department officials hope the mobile trainer will improve work safety in counties such as Mecklenburg, which has the state's highest workplace fatality rate.
The mobile classroom offers English and Spanish instruction and will be wheeled to work sites throughout the state, especially construction areas and farming communities. State occupational safety and health administrators hope the mobile classroom will be a draw for employees who are reluctant to take time off work to receive safety training.
"I think we're compelled at [DOL] to try new ways to protect our workers," Labor Commissioner Cherie K. Berry said. "Our job is to protect their well being and to protect them from fatal and nonfatal injuries., This is a fiscally responsible way of doing it."
Last year, 24 workers died in Mecklenburg County. North Carolina lost a total of 234 workers in 2000, including in categories such as highway accidents or heart attacks.
Labor One carries Labor Department employees who can deliver workplace safety training in both English and Spanish. The capabilities of Labor One make North Carolina the first state in the South to offer bilingual training on wheels.
The mobile classroom can provide indoor training, and in favorable weather, can unfurl two outdoor canopies for additional training space. Inside the classroom, computer-related equipment gives employers and employees alike accessibility to other information resources. A television monitor also enables DOL personnel to provide training in bioterrorism areas such as the anthrax threats that occurred after Sept. 11.
Labor One is the product of a pledge Berry made last year to enhance workplace safety and health, including safety training for the Hispanic workforce.
"Our inspectors are going to construction sites where 80 percent of the employees are Hispanic, and few speak English," Berry said. "Some crews are 100 percent Hispanic. How do you protect them? Simple. You train them in Spanish."
Berry said it was important to roll out Labor One during her first year in office to signal her commitment to bring a new level of safety to North Carolina.
Labor officials are making Labor One available to groups interested in the safety training programs. Companies can call 1-800-522-6762 (800-LABOR-NC) to make reservations. The department also is promoting the use of its free consultative section that it provides to companies throughout the state.
The North Carolina labor force stands at over 4 million. Almost a quarter of a million workers are employed in construction, which historically has experienced the highest fatality rate among other work categories. In 2000, 45 construction workers lost their lives, accounting for 19 percent of all workplace fatalities that year.
In Mecklenburg County, the labor force totals 869,100. An estimated 56,700 work in construction.
Although total Hispanic fatality figures for Mecklenburg were not available, 22 Latinos lost their lives in work-related accidents in North Carolina last year. Five of these deaths were construction-related. Three Hispanic workers died in construction-related accidents in Mecklenburg.
Labor officials plan to use Labor One to visit construction sites, manufacturing plants, farms and other work sites where the department can provide easy accessibility to high-risk work areas.
DOL plans also call for the use of bilingual safety specialists who can train their classes in either English or Spanish. The department currently has bilingual employees who are helping to make available in Spanish the same safety information usually provided to English-speaking workers.
Census figures place the Hispanic population in North Carolina at almost 379,000, although some Hispanic advocates say the numbers are much higher.
edited by Sandy Smith ([email protected])