According to a 2012 study by the National Center for Farmworkers Health, the majority of farmworkers in the US and Canada are foreign-born and most of those workers, primarily from Mexico, speak little or no English. Foreign-born workers face a wide variety of workplace hazards, many of which are exacerbated by a lack of Spanish-language safety instruction.
Nearly 8,000 Mexican farmworkers migrate to Ontario each year as seasonal laborers. Many of these farmworkers come from agricultural backgrounds, which gives them a head start on Canadian farms. However, the language barrier can be a serious issue, particularly when it comes to worker safety. In response to this issue, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS), with support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and the Canadian federal government, has created a series of farm safety training tools in English and Spanish . A central tool in this series is a video called Orientation for Seasonal Workers in the Agricultural Industry. The 18-minute bilingual video demonstrates essential field safety practices. WSPS agricultural program manager Dean Anderson says “visuals can be helpful when language is a problem, making video an important medium for teaching and learning.”
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a department of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reported that “immigrant workers face a disproportionate risk for workplace injury and illness.” NIOSH sites the language barrier as a major contributor to this disproportionate risk. To combat this issue, NIOSH sponsored a number of programs, including launching a Spanish language website, translating several NIOSH publications into Spanish, and proposing a National Academy of Science workshop to improve Spanish-language occupational safety and health materials. NIOSH also initiated an innovative partnership with Spanish-language TV network Telemundo to incorporate a workplace safety storyline into the popular series “Pecados Ajenos.” NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. said “this is a pioneering effort in combining education and dramatic entertainment to reach a large, Spanish-speaking audience with the important message that work-related injuries are serious but preventable, and moreover, to present the message in a culturally and dramatically meaningful way.”