Safety Programs – Cultural and Linguistic Backgrounds

As a bilingual safety trainer, I have the honor to collaborate with some great safety professionals. I have provided training for companies truly committed to a strong safety culture. What I have discovered and observed could be considered shocking!

For instance, on numerous occasions, I have been contracted to provide safety classes for a group of Hispanic workers while another class is conducted in English elsewhere.

The Hispanic workers come into the room seeking seats away from me. I introduce myself and ask them to do the same. Next, I share a story to engage and inspire them. When I have their attention, I ask them questions pertinent to the subject we will consider.

The crowd looks confused and annoyed! Someone raises his hand and says, “Why are you asking so many questions? Usually the safety person comes in, turns off the lights and shows us a video or some PowerPoint.”  My response, “Why do you ask? Do you consider this time away from work as an opportunity to take a nap?” The room breaks out in awkward laughter and nods in agreement.

It becomes obvious at this moment that this fine company who has an excellent safety team and has invested so much in training has a real problem. The Hispanic employees are completely disengaged. They are not fitting in with the rest of the safety culture of the company.

I dig a little deeper to understand their point of view. As they speak and express themselves, it becomes clear that they consider themselves outsiders, separate from the team. They express fear over losing their jobs even though the company never gave them a reason to. A common reasoning that I hear is, “The only reason we are hired is because we work hard and produce more than others! Sure the safety rules sound nice, but that is for Americans, if we are to maintain production and keep our jobs, we need to cut corners! They give us the hard dangerous jobs because they don’t care about us. We have no rights in this country, we take what we can get and don’t complain.”

These very intense negative expressions are told to me regularly because I am part of the Hispanic community and they trust me. I speak with them honestly and in their own language. Even if their assertions aren’t true, this is what they believe. To them, that is their truth and would not be convinced otherwise. It has been said that perception is more important than reality.  The saying certainly applies here.

Many of the people in the class speak some level of English; they could join the other training group. However, when I train in Spanish and show them respect, the message reaches their heart. The combination of understanding their culture, the way I speak with them along with doing it in the language of their heart is the most effective way to reach them.

I cannot over emphasize how important it is to take into consideration linguistic and cultural backgrounds when developing and implementing an effective safety program. Otherwise, you aren’t walking the walk or talking the talk.

The next safety article will address how I manage those negative issues and concerns raised by the Hispanic employees in this blog post.

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