More than 20,000 workers are injured in road construction work zones each year, and more than 100 fatal occupational injuries occurred at road construction sites in 2008. TEEX is working to change those statistics through a new work zone safety initiative funded by a Susan Harwood grant from the U.S. Department of Labor – Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
The $198,000 grant will fund 33 classes in Work Zone Traffic Control and Flaggers in Work Zones for approximately 400 Spanish-speaking highway construction workers in the five-state OSHA Region VI covered by the OSHA Training Institute Southwest Education Center, which is operated by TEEX.
The grant-funded, Spanish language courses will be delivered at no charge to workers in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, by TEEX bilingual instructors Lee Ramirez and Sal Mercado.
At the National Action Summit for Latino Workers Health and Safety in Houston last April, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis pointed out that Latino workers are killed and suffer work-related injuries at higher rates than all other workers. The Latino labor force in the U.S. numbers 22.7 million and represents 14.8 percent of the total civilian labor force, she said.
TEEX trains most of the highway construction contract workers in Texas in work zone traffic control and flagging, said Howard McCann, Transportation Training Program Director with TEEX’s Infrastructure Training & Safety Institute. “In Texas, the number of traffic fatalities per mile driven has continued to drop, and I’m proud of our small part in that. I think we’ve made a contribution to highway safety in Texas, and I’m pleased that OSHA has given us the opportunity to offer the training in four other states as well.”
The no-cost training is scheduled to begin in January, and each delivery will include a two-day Work Zone Traffic Control course and a four-hour flagger course. McCann said the Texas curriculum must be revised slightly to match each state’s requirements related to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, released by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and then translated into Spanish.
TEEX has previously offered highway safety training in Spanish and has produced Spanish-language safety handbooks, including Work Zone Traffic Control Reference Guide and Defensive Flagging: A Survivors Guide.
“TEEX has had bilingual instructors for a long time and has successfully reached out to Spanish-speaking workers,” McCann said. “Our instructors are very engaging and make the learning exciting, but we never let the students forget that work zones can become danger zones, and that it’s important to follow proper safety procedures. Our goal is to keep the workers safe and alive. We tell them, ‘You have to keep your head in the game, and always remember where you are. Take no chances, and never trust the traffic.’ We want them to go home to their family at the end of the day.”
TEEX was one of 16 U.S. organizations that received a one-year Susan Harwood Targeted Topic Training Grant for the development of quality occupational safety and health training materials and programs for workers and employers. The grant program is designed to educate workers and employers in industries with high hazard and fatality rates, workers with limited English proficiency, hard-to-reach workers and supervisors, and small business employers.