Hispanic workers have flooded into the roofing industry in recent years. For example, some 80% of the workers at Martin Roofing Co. in Wichita, Kan. are Hispanic, says CEO Kurt Baumgartner.
With these workers come new safety concerns in an industry ranked among the nation's most dangerous by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hispanic workers (U.S.- and foreign-born) have a higher rate of fatal injuries than U.S. workers as a whole: 4.9 fatalities per 100,000 in 2004 vs. 4.1 for U.S. workers overall.
Danger in Miscommunication Language is the main cause. In 2004, for example, foreign-born Hispanic workers had a job fatality rate of 5.9 per 100,000 workers, 44% above the national rate. For the same year, the fatality rate among U.S.-born Hispanics was lower than the national rate.
The fact that many Hispanic workers are new to the roofing industry compounds the problem, explains Bill Good, executive vice president of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). Non-English-speaking workers tend to have higher accident rates in the first two years of employment, he says. So with many new Hispanics, “you would expect to see more accidents within that population” simply because of time on the job.
However, the obvious solution — bilingual training materials and supervisors who are fluent in Spanish and English — isn't necessarily a simple one. Baumgartner provides “rigorous safety training, all in English and Spanish,” using a variety of materials from the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association, he says.
Training Tools on DVD A sizeable number of foreign-born Hispanics in particular can read neither Spanish nor English. “We've found we have to read the material to them,” Baumgartner says. “And hopefully you have a video or DVD in Spanish where they can see it and hear it,” he adds.
Fortunately, there are many bilingual safety training materials available for roofing contractors. Several states have Hispanic outreach programs as well as downloadable Internet resources. The NRCA has a growing library of safety DVDs and “Tool Talk” outlines in English and Spanish available to members and nonmembers.
To help contractors develop their own bilingual resources, NRCA also stages a series of one-day “Train the Trainer” meetings throughout the U.S. “It's pretty clear that communication is an issue,” Good says.