| Spring 2007

Make Safety a Universal Language
By Joey Lucia • Loss Prevention Supervisor

Make Safety a Universal Language

Article highlights:

  • Non-English speaking Hispanic workers present unique safety challenges.
  • By focusing on safety, employers can make their workplaces more productive.

Picture this: It's your first day on the job with a construction crew. Your boss asks you to lay a foundation for one of those fancy office buildings. High above, another worker is walking along a scaffold. He accidentally kicks a hammer off the scaffold, and you are directly below it.

Common Safety Terms
English Spanish
Clean up spills Limpiar derramamientos
Emergency exit Salída de emergencia
Entrance Entrada
Exit Salída
Hot Caliente
Report accidents Reportar accídentes
Report hazards Reportar pelígro
No smoking No fumar
Wear seat belts Usar sinturon de seguridad
Wet floor Piso mojado

Fortunately, your company has a total safety culture. In a total safety culture, employees look out for each other. Everyone is accountable for not only their own safety but also their co-workers' safety.

With that in mind, someone yells, "¡Cuidado, el martillo se puede cáer sobre ti!" Your co-worker warned you to get out of the way.
If you didn't speak Spanish, you might have been involved in a serious accident.

Hispanics represent about 33 percent of the Texas labor force. They face the same workplace hazards as their non-Hispanic co-workers, but they may be more likely to have an accident. In 2005, Hispanics accounted for 40 percent of workplace fatalities, a 33 percent increase over 2004, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.

Here are tips for keeping non-English speaking Hispanic workers safe. Follow the ones that fit your business, and you can help make your workplace safer and more productive.

Challenge: language
You know that fizzy, sweet drink that Texans call a Coke, regardless of what brand we're talking about? It's also called pop and soda in other parts of the country. Language can be a barrier to communication, even among people who speak the same language. Imagine how hard it is for Hispanic workers who speak little or no English.


  • Use more pictures and fewer words to point out hazards and teach safety procedures.
  • Most communication is nonverbal. Watch workers' eyes, body language and expressions to see whether they understand instructions.
  • Train supervisors in basic, conversational Spanish. Send non-English speaking Hispanic workers to a conversational English class. Focus on commonly used words in your industry.
  • Hire Spanish-speaking supervisors who have experience in your industry.
  • Ask bilingual employees to translate safety messages.
  • If you have training requirements, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires you to provide them in a language workers can understand. Hire a translation company to put safety training material into Spanish. Make sure the translator is fluent in the Spanish dialects your employees speak.

Challenge: literacy
Many Hispanic workers do not have the luxury of pursuing their education because they have to help support their family. Over 40 percent of Americans of Hispanic or Latino descent do not have a high school diploma, according to the 2005 American Community Survey. By comparison, about 16 percent of the total U.S. population does not have a high school diploma.


  • Keep training basic.
  • Provide simple, hands-on safety demonstrations.
  • Do not let employees start work until they show that they understand the training.
  • Provide follow-up training, and make sure to address new workplace hazards.

Challenge: fear
Have you ever been afraid of asking a question in front of a large group of people? Imagine asking it in a different language. Non-English speaking Hispanic workers may put themselves at risk because they are too embarrassed to ask questions about safety procedures. Some may even fear for their jobs if they report unsafe working conditions.


  • Encourage every employee to report unsafe conditions.
  • Offer safety training away from the workplace. If the trainer is someone other than a manager, employees may be less intimidated and more likely to ask questions.
  • Make sure non-English speaking Hispanic workers have peers they feel comfortable talking to.
  • Deliver the safety message to employees in their environment. For example, distribute Spanish safety training material at community functions.
  • Reward safe behavior in front of co-workers.
  • Take time to learn about your Hispanic workers and their culture.

The safety resource center offers DVDs, videos, pamphlets and other safety training material. The resources are free, and many are available in Spanish. Our Spanish-speaking information specialists at (800) 859-5995 can update workers on their benefit check status, help them find a doctor and explain their workers' comp benefits. For more information on keeping Spanish-speaking workers safe on the job, visit www.osha.gov.

Make Safety a Universal Language

Don't Forget Teen Workers
It won't be long before millions of teens pound the pavement in search of summer jobs. Like non-English speaking Hispanic workers, teens present unique workplace safety challenges. Visit the Safety and Return-to-Work section for tips on keeping teen workers safe this summer.

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