How I address safety concerns raised by Hispanic employees

In the previous safety article, I described the very common scenario that I often experience. While providing safety training, I notice that Hispanic workers stick together and often seem apathetic and unconvinced by the safety message. They view it as a requirement and go through the motions.  As I probe deeper to understand their point of view, they express themselves. It becomes obvious that they:

  • Consider themselves outsiders and not part of the team
  • Express fear over losing their jobs
  • Believe that “the only reason we are hired is because we work hard and produce more than others”
  • Feel safety rules sound nice but are for Americans
  • Believe they need to cut corners if they are to maintain production and keep their jobs, and the company “wink-wink” knows that
  • Feel Latinos are assigned the difficult, perilous jobs because they are expendable
  • Have no rights in this country and do not complain

Experience has taught me that if I try to refute or deny these strongly held beliefs, I will lose their trust; they will consider me a sell-out. Therefore, I typically take a different approach by reasoning on things that they can agree on. The following are reasoning points I use to motivate them to work and think safer:

  1. I concede that they must work harder; nevertheless, each person must still find a way maintain production and still be safe
    1. Their life and health are at stake
    2. Providing and caring for the family are at stake (a great motivator for Hispanics)
  2. Since they believe that immigrants are held with little value, I share with them a monetary reason why companies need to reduce risk.
    1. I explain the obvious and hidden actual costs of workers’ compensation injuries
      1. By adding the numbers and showing them the astronomical cost of injuries, I help them to see that the company really is committed to safety, if only for the bottom line
      2. This reasoning helps them see that higher production does not compute when injuries occur.
  3. I explain the cost of OSHA fines and how important it is to employers to avoid them.
    1. Bidding process is affected by a company’s injury rates; companies may be rejected for excessive injuries.
  4. The fact that the company invested in me to train them in Spanish demonstrates the company’s commitment and concern for them.

Overall, I’m impressed with the safety culture of some great companies that I have had the privilege to work with. I see no evidence what so ever of mistreatment. Yet, when they confide in me, many Hispanic employees have these deeply-held negative beliefs. My dad always used to say, “Mind over matter.  When your mind’s made up, nothing else matters!”  Instead of trying to change their minds, I use powerful reasoning that rings true to them. The motivation comes from their family and the strong financial incentive a company has for working safe.

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