Working with Latinos: Understanding Culture and High-Risk Industries
Although workplace safety requirements are generally far more comprehensive in the U.S. than in Latin America, accidents still happen in high-risk industries such as construction. What’s striking is that Latino workers consistently have a higher rate of injury and accidental death than other ethnic groups in the workplace. This is why, when working with Latinos, that there are a few key issues to understand.
Sometimes language barriers are blamed for Latino non-compliance with safety regulations. While poor communication can indeed be a language issue, there are also underlying cultural differences that can play a huge role in how Latinos function on the job site in terms of safety.
One such cultural value that plays heavily into Latino employee behavior is that of respeto, or respect. When we talked about respeto in the medical setting, we discussed how it manifested itself as agreeableness, which leads to miscommunication and ultimately, non-compliance. The same is true in the workplace. As Diana Cortez, regional Hispanic Coordinator for OSHA pointed out at a 2006 Hispanic Family Health & Safety Fair,
“[Latinos] respect their superiors, their bosses, and they will follow all the assignments given to them . . .whether they have all the equipment they need or they don’t.”
That same agreeableness and unwillingness to make waves can mean that a Latino employee would be less likely to speak up in the event that he or she sees something wrong or unsafe on the job site. Along with respect and agreeableness, Latinos may make decisions out of fear of losing one’s job and ability to support his or her family. This is often cited as a reason why Latinos take on tasks they know to be dangerous without proper safety equipment. This scenario puts everyone at risk, as an accident or death on the job site can be crippling for the employee’s family and very costly for the employer as well.
If you’re noticing that some changes need to be made on your building site and you are working with Latinos, you may consider implementing safety training in Spanish, job site language training or even consulting with a language and culture professional to ensure that your safety policies and procedures are followed.