Make safety a universal language

Imagine it’s your first day on the job with a construction crew, and you’re laying a foundation for a fancy office building. 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 Messages
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 pelígros
No smoking No fumar
Wear seat belts Usar sinturon de seguridad
Wet floor Piso mojado

Fortunately, your company has a total safety culture in which everyone is accountable for their own safety and their co-workers’ safety.

With that in mind, someone yells, “¡Cuidado, el martillo se puede cáer sobre ti!”

Your co-worker just warned you to get out of the way. If you don’t speak Spanish, you probably missed the message.

That’s a predicament non-English speaking workers face every day.

Who are America’s foreign-born workers?

In 2015, there were 26.3 million foreign-born people in the U.S. labor force, comprising 16.7 percent of the total. So who are they, and how do they make their livings? To help you paint a picture, here are a few 2015 statistics, courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Ethnicity: Hispanics accounted for 48.8 percent of the foreign-born labor force, followed by Asians at 24.1 percent.

Gender: Men accounted for 58.3 percent of foreign-born workers.

Occupations: The top three occupations for foreign-born workers were management, professional and related occupations at 30.8 percent; service occupations at 23.4 percent; and sales and office occupations at 16.6 percent.

Age: Workers between the ages of 25 and 54 made up 73.7 percent of the foreign-born labor force, compared with 62.5 percent for native-born workers.

Region: The foreign-born made up a larger share of the labor force in the West and Northeast at 24 and 19.5 percent, respectively. Foreign-born workers comprised 15.5 percent of the labor force in the South and 8.7 percent in the Midwest.

From minority to majority

Now that we have a picture of America’s foreign-born labor force, what about the Lone Star State? In 2005, minorities became the majority in Texas, representing 50.2 percent of our population. Hispanics make up Texas’ largest minority group, and that won’t change anytime soon.

In fact, demographers expect the state’s population to double by 2050, with Hispanics accounting for 60 percent of our population. And if the data analysis experts at IHS are correct, 55.4 million Hispanics will speak Spanish in their homes by 2034, a 50 percent increase over 2014.

So what does that mean for employers who care about their employees’ safety and want to send them home injury-free?

Message received

You know that fizzy, sweet drink 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.

Fortunately, you can make safety a universal language in your workplace if you follow a few simple tips:

  • Remember that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires you to train workers in a language they understand. Consider hiring a translation company to put safety training material into Spanish. Make sure the translator is fluent in the Spanish dialects your employees speak.
  • Use more pictures and fewer words to point out hazards and teach safety procedures.
  • Provide hands-on demonstrations of the safe way to do each task.
  • Remember that 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 that includes commonly used words in your industry.
  • Hire Spanish-speaking supervisors who have experience in your industry.
  • Keep safety training basic, and ask bilingual employees to translate messages.
  • 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.

Get free resources

Texas Mutual policyholders have free access to Spanish-language training materials in the safety resource center at Anyone can take advantage of OSHA and Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) training materials for Spanish-speaking workers. OSHA recently announced that users can translate every page on its website into Spanish with the click of a button. And TDI’s free services include Spanish-language OSHA 10-hour construction training.


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