Local News

Labor Department Blitz Aims To Promote Safety At Wake Construction Sites

Posted June 24, 2004

— North Carolina has seen an overall decline in workplace accidents, but for Hispanics workers, mishaps on the job have been rising.

The

state Department of Labor

believes the source of the problem is that safety regulators do not speak their language. Now they are trying to correct the problem.

The Department of Labor sent out 20 teams to visit 100 randomly-selected Wake County construction sites Thursday. Four times a year, special teams target 6 counties, including Wake County, because of their high construction accident fatality rates.

This time, there is even more emphasis on reaching Hispanic workers. Since March, three Hispanic workers were killed in construction accidents in Wake County.

In March, a worker was killed in Holly Springs when he was crushed under a concrete culvert. That same day, a construction worker was killed at Carter-Finley Stadium when a steel reinforced column collapsed. In May, a worker was killed in Morrisville when a wall fell over.

"Construction is a dangerous game and I think most are aware of this. There are a lot of fatalities in some counties, Wake being one of them," said Willard Whitley of the state Department of Labor.

A high concentration of construction projects and a high concentration of Hispanic workers have the Department of Labor focusing on safety in Wake County and on Hispanic workers in general.

"It's hard to get an accurate account," Whitley said. "The estimate is that 60 to 80 percent of construction workers are Hispanic."

Most teams visiting the Wake County sites will have a translator and all the teams will have safety information in English and Spanish.

"There are two main issues -- one being language and the other being cultural perceptions. They may not be aware of what the hazards are, but they will do what they are told to do," training specialist Efren Morell said.

No tickets or fines are being issued.

"It is to raise awareness of everyone -- the employee, the employer, the owners and the personnel that construction is a dangerous business," Whitley said.

A total of 24 workers have been killed in North Carolina construction accidents since October; 6 of those workers were Hispanic.

"It makes you stop and think about what happened, how that could've been me," worker Diego Garcia said.

The overall numbers for workplace accidents are going down for other groups, but seem to be on the rise for Hispanics.

State lawmakers are also looking at ideas to keep non-English speaking workers safe. House Bill 1627 calls for $100,000 to pay for construction safety courses for non-English workers at community colleges.

The Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry feels the money would be better spent on mobile classrooms that take bilingual training right to the worksite.

Rep. Wayne Goodwin of Richmond County sponsored the bill and is running for the office currently held by Berry. The bill is currently in the House Appropriations Committee.

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