On Record: Communicating with your entire crew

I appreciate the population changes on our jobsites can be unnerving. I also acknowledge there are several negatives surrounding the use of Hispanic workers. But in light of Allen Moss’s letter published in our June issue – and the responses both pro and con we’ve since received – I wanted to go over exactly why we publish our tear-out Safety Watch in both English and Spanish.

First, though, let’s clear the air about what’s not behind our bi-lingual approach: It is not a promotion of the use of Hispanic labor. To be blunt, no one needs our help in that department. When we published our special report on Hispanics in construction in September, 2006, we quoted U.S. Department of Labor figures stating Hispanics made up of 26 percent of the construction workforce. The most recent government stats now place that number at 29.9 percent.

But perhaps the most telling statistics are those that involve construction deaths and injuries. In 2003, there were 261 Hispanic deaths on jobsites, a number that rose to 354 in 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that same period, injuries and illnesses involving days away from work rose from 26,750 to 33,930 among Hispanic construction workers.

Our overall motive with Safety Watch is to assist U.S. employers by giving them a safety information tool to share with their employees – whether they speak English or Spanish. There’s little sense in hiring a non-English-speaking worker and then expecting that worker to gain the information he needs to work safely and productively in a language he doesn’t understand. Should these workers work hard on gaining English skills? Absolutely. But learning a language isn’t an overnight process, and neither is teaching safety, whatever the language.

“Some folks are bilingual to various degrees,” one contractor wrote me, “so having the information in both English and Spanish makes sure the point gets across. Just so you know, I review the information in both languages. And yes, I get a lot of laughs at my attempts at a second language.”

Other communication we received took the opposite tack: “It is my sincere hope that Equipment World realizes this egregious error in judgment, and returns to supporting and catering to the American contractors that make it a successful publication,” wrote a reader. Added another: “Please add my name” to those wanting to be removed from our mailing list.

I agree it would be ideal if everyone on a construction crew spoke and understood English. But even in small town America this is no longer the case. And as one of your key information providers, we have a responsibility to give you the tools you need to address workforce realities, even if you’re not always happy with us when we do.