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VPPPA 2018: Addressing Cultural Barriers in a Hispanic Workforce

Getting to the root cause of Hispanic workforce fatalities begins with identifying cultural challenges.

The rate of fatalities among the Hispanic population in the construction industry role 7% from 2005 to 2017.

This trend is expected to continue if companies don't identify and address the barriers to working with a non-English speaking demographic, Dr. Ahmed Al-Bayati, Western Carolina University assistant professor told Safety+ Symposium attendees.

"The job is to understand values and expectations so we can communicate them to workers," he said.

Conveying safety to Hispanic workers begins with understanding the root causes of the higher fatality rate. Hispanic workers typically have a different education level and immigration status. 

While safety professionals cannot fix those challenges, they can work on addressing the cultural barriers, language barriers and experience.

According to OSHA regulations, safety training and materials must be understandable to all employees. This begins with translating literature and workshops to Spanish. However, it is harder to tackle cultural barriers.

Cultural differences lead to unshared assumptions regarding work, safety and personal interactions. This can easily lead to miscommunication between workers and supervisors, Dr. Al-Bayati said.

"It is not easy to define culture, it has a wide-ranging definition," he told attendees.

This deficiency and lack of awareness leads to unsafe behaviors, resulting in higher injuries and fatalities.

Dr. Al-Bayati explained how a majority of HIspanic workers will accept a supervisor's instructions without a second thought, even if the direction is unclear. They are unlikely to ask questions.

"Because you are a person of authority, you need to inform everyone who the safety leader is, that they need to follow orders and that he/she has full authority," he said.

Best practices that supervisors can follow include not taking silence as an indication of understanding, provide more details about ongoing tasks and increase the frequency of safety walks. In addition, managers should emphasize that questions are encouraged.

The second aspect to the cultural barriers is family values among workers. 

"Hispanic workers often work with their family and close friends on job sites," Dr. Al-Bayati indicated.

Because of this, employees are more likely to break rules in order to help other family members or friends.

The remedy to this issue would be to hire a safety professional to act as both a bilingual and cultural leader. This employee should receive special training. Workers should be instructed to follow the directions of this manager and be told that he/she has the full authority to stop work if an unsafe act occurs.

"Continually emphasize that you care about your crew members, consider them as a family and they should talk to you directly if the instructions are not clear or the work conditions are not safe," he said.

The last challenge Dr. Al-Bayati discussed stressed clear and concise communication.

"Hispanic workers may prefer detailed and step-by-step directions," he said. "However, they normally do not get such directions from their supervisors."

Step-by-step procedures should be provided to Hispanic workers with each task. They may not ask questions because, from a cultural standpoint, this shows inexperience and weakness.

"It is very important to account for Hispanic workers' expectations and values," Dr. Al-Bayati concluded. "There are no regulations to address active cultural differences. It is an overall construction industry deficiency rather than supervisors' shortcomings."





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