ASSE: NIOSH Chief Says Immigrant Workers 'Challenge' Safety Paradigms

June 11, 2004
In his keynote address to ASSE members at the American Society of Safety Engineers' professional Development Conference and Exposition on June 9 in Las Vegas, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Director John Howard addressed the challenges immigrant workers have created for workplace safety professionals.

"The flow of immigrants in the United States is both responsible for increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the American workforce, but more than that it is responsible for challenging our ability to create a transcultural workplace safety paradigm in the United States emphasizing risk communication strategies that are responsive to the multi-cultural composition of the American workforce," said Howard.

He called Latino workforce safety "a national, regional, state and local safety issue," adding, "Data from the 2000 Census tells us that the transcultural challenges in occupational safety are not limited to those states traditionally associated with large Latino populations such as California, Texas, New York and Florida. Rather, the challenge of developing culturally integrated approaches to workplace safety will impact numerous other states not known for large Latino populations such as North Carolina, Minnesota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Georgia, Nevada, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina."

NIOSH, ASSE and OSHA are working together to develop risk communications that build on workers' cultural values; that are effective without assuming a 'standard' educational attainment on the part of the worker; and a risk communication paradigm that incorporates hands-on demonstrations of safety principles instead of relying on a worker's oral or written language literacy.

During the ASSE conference, some sessions were presented in Spanish and some were directed at those with a Latino workforce such as the sessions titled "Training and Communication Skills for Developing a Safety Culture," "You Don't Have to Speak Spanish to Communicate with Your Spanish Speaking Workforce," and "How to Understand and Apply OSHA's Fall Protection Standard." One-day training classes were held for Latino workers in conjunction with the conference as well.

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