Safety communication has a direct impact on injury rates in the workplace. English-speaking (ES) and non-English-speaking (NES) employees interpret safety communication differently due to its anchor in language. Safety communication refers to the use of words or images to impart information or ideas to employees as a means of reducing injury loss. Examples include signs, verbal directives, written procedures, and training programs. This study investigates differences in safety communication comprehension between ES and NES employees. In particular, this research will provide greater knowledge of the degree to which ES and NES employees differ in their understanding of safety communication efforts. We identify current practices that may impede communication, as well as those that are effective. Our three main hypotheses follow:

  • English language ability is positively associated with safety comprehension.

  • Safety comprehension is negatively associated with injury rates.

  • Therefore, we derive that English language ability is negatively associated with injury rates.

According to the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), between 1972 and 1993, employer costs for providing workers' compensation rose from $6 billion to $57 billion. This is an annual growth rate of 12.5%. In addition to employer costs, there are indirect economic costs such as rehiring and training, and lost production time. There are social costs as well, such as in the form of increased dependence on social services. Finally, there are the obvious individual costs associated with injury. Therefore, our effort to reduce injury rates in the workplace can have not only individual benefits, but societal benefits as well.

Much research has investigated the causes of injury in the workplace (Leigh 1989; Greenlund and Elling 1995; Wright and Bullard 1990; Wagener and Winn 1991; Loomis and Richardson 1998). In much of this research, demographic characteristics are examined, including race. In terms of race, research has revealed that Whites are employed as often as other races in industries with high average injury rates, but less often in the occupations where injuries actually occur (Robinson 1989; Lucas 1974; Robinson 1984; Robinson 1987). This suggests a kind of occupational race segregation, or the idea that safer occupations are held more often by Whites, and the less safe occupations are held more often by non-Whites. Non-White employees have been concentrated in the least-appealing jobs in many industries since the 1920s. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) national 2002 data reveals that 48.4 percent of laborers (manual workers who are "unskilled" or semi-skilled) and 36.2 percent of operatives (skilled factory workers) are non-White. When considering in-group distribution across occupations, 5.7 percent of Whites find themselves in a labor position, whereas more than double that rate of non-Whites do (12.5 percent).

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