What's the reason for this disparity?
The answers are both cultural and linguistic. Cultural attitudes play a very important role in workplace safety. The workplace in Latin America is a hierarchy with a well-defined chain of command. Workers go up the ladder with ideas or suggestions to their immediate supervisor. To many Latinos, a "good" employee trusts and respects his supervisor implicitly—without question. Asking questions can be seen as a threat to the supervisor's authority instead of a desire for clarification. This cultural barrier to communications is just as serious as a language barrier where safety practices are concerned. As for the language barrier itself, even though most Hispanic workers are learning English, for many it is a Herculean task. According to US census figures, almost two-thirds of Hispanics over the age of 27 are functionally illiterate. For average Hispanic adults, the learning curve to speaking English fluently can take up to seven years. Consequently, implementing training policies that are spoken and/or printed in English only will be ineffective and potentially dangerous.
Cultural diversity and Spanish language training for supervisory personnel will continue to provide some of the answers to this complex 21st-century construction issue. A change in awareness may provide others. Think about the ways you can create a new language of safety on your job site. When translators are not available, speak slowly, be direct using short simple sentences, and when possible use demonstrations—show specific safety techniques and have all employees practice them. This critical training and facilitated communication is an important aspect of the new language of safety that will reduce accidents and promote increased efficiency.
|Breaking the Language Barrier
To connect with Spanish-speaking employees, Myelita Melton, president of SpeakEasy Communications, offers the following tips:
About the Author
Myelita Melton, president of SpeakEasy Communications, is the author of the SpeakEasy Spanish™ series. Survival Spanish for Construction is one of the firm's most popular titles. Melton is a nationally recognized expert in language and cultural diversity. She delivers a variety of high-content programs to business and industry nationwide. Contact Myelita through the company's website at www.speakeasyspanish.com.