The workers comp regulators in New Mexico have been way out in front in recognizing and trying to address the work safety issues that are distinctive to Hispanic immigration workforces (legal or not). The regulators have worked up some programs in collaboration with the Mexican consulate. The program includes Spanish language wallet cards and safety videos.
I have posted below an article which appeared in the Journal of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). I visited the state regulatory agency and the state-sponsored worker comp insurer, New Mexico Employers' Mutual Insurance Corporation, in December, and found both to be very attentive to the problems of under-reporting of injuries and poor medical treatment.
Workplace Safety for Immigrant Workers From Mexico: Perspectives for Workers’ Compensation Administrators
By James M. Mullen, Safety Technical Advisor, Office of the Director, New Mexico Workers' Compensation Administration, Phone: 505-841-6807 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
IAIABC Journal Fall, 2005
Mr. Mullen has been involved in all aspects of workplace safety in New Mexico. Accident prevention has been effective in improving the business environment by reducing the number of accidents, improving productivity, lowering insurance costs and increasing profitability.
This article from the perspective of the workers’ compensation administrator, describes actions taken by the New Mexico Workers Compensation Administration that have been accomplished or are underway to address the serious issues related to immigrant labor. As many of the same issues confront all workers compensation jurisdictions in the United States, the process may serve as a template for other jurisdictions.
The article does not address public policy or offer solutions to the many conflicting views and approaches of those involved, either directly or indirectly. The immigrant worker is among us and, if injured on the job, must be dealt with in a legal, fair and humanitarian way. In New Mexico, a worker who is injured during the course and scope of employment (with some exceptions) is covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act. Immigration status, legal or otherwise, is not an issue. There are many other issues and problems which include language and cultural barriers, fear, lack of understanding, high accident and fatality rates among Hispanic workers – especially in construction, low levels of education, ignorance of the laws of the United States and many more.
To overcome some of these issues, the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration (Administration) developed a partnership with the Mexican Consulate in Albuquerque. The Administration believed that international cooperation with diplomacy was the best way to reach workers who may be at risk and who were in need of workers’ compensation information. With workplace safety as the common goal, great things were possible. This approach has worked for New Mexico and may be a valuable course of action for others who are involved in attempting to solve some of the problems presented by cross-border workers or resident immigrant Hispanic populations.
The mission of the Consulates of Mexico in the United States is to protect the interests of Mexican citizens and to promote trade, commerce and cultural relations between Mexico and the United States. Among the services and information offered by the consulates are Visa and Passport information, Mexican immigration and trade information including Powers of Attorney or legalization of documents to be used in Mexico. Consulates of Mexico are located throughout the United States and can be focal points for action to improve the lives of immigrant workers and their families.
The Administration has worked closely and successfully with the Mexican Consulate to develop programs of cooperation so that workers and employers may be more aware of workplace safety, their rights and responsibilities and the safety and Ombudsman (advisory) services that are available though the Workers' Compensation Administration. The goal of this program is to reduce the number of accidents and injuries among all workers in New Mexico with a focus on immigrant workers from Mexico. . The Consul of Mexico, the governor, and Workers’ Compensation Administration director and assistant director are highly supportive. Other participants include a team from a major local employer and members of the Association of Latino Businesses of New Mexico. Armed with the knowledge that our team members knew nothing about international cooperation, we proceeded on the premise that the team could be effective by addressing needs of immigrant workers in terms of workplace safety in a positive way and in Spanish. The staff of the Mexican Consulate appreciated our situation and our efforts – this led to a productive relationship that produced results. It was also pervasive – when a senior Mexican Consul staff member was reassigned to the new consulate in St. Paul, MN, he took with him the methods and tools that had proven themselves in New Mexico.
Through these innovative collaborative efforts, the following specific actions have been taken. Together with the business team and the Association of Latino Businesses of New Mexico, the Administration designed, developed and presented a workplace safety presentation for Spanish-speaking employers to provide them with the information and tools necessary to make their workplaces safer and to understand the elements of the workers' compensation system in New Mexico
Another presentation for workers has been designed for presentation in the near future. The plan is to target workers in industries that that have significant accident experience. These presentations focus on accident prevention and highlight family and cultural issues, US laws, rights and responsibilities and what to do if injured on the job in New Mexico.
Specifically, it was important to convey to both groups the fact that it is not OK to be injured on the job in the United States. Accidents can and should be prevented. Families and employers rely on workers and the products and services they render. Workers are protected in the United States by federal, state and local laws. Workplace safety is critical to an effective workforce and economic development. Basic methods of doing work in the United States are different and require review. When developing programs and training it is important to remember –
* to have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and Right to Know (RTK) information available in Spanish.
* workers need to understand and respond to safety language – signs, rules, verbal and non-verbal signals and emergency actions. Training should include identification of all essential tools and equipment that the worker needs for the job – symbols help convey meaning. Understanding is most important.
Hispanic worker issues and industries that should be addressed include the following:
Safety Training in Spanish Utilizing Videos, Presentations and Written Procedures
General Industry: Emergency/First Aid Procedures, Motor Vehicle Accident Prevention, Back Injury Prevention, Workers’ Compensation Procedures. New workers need special attention in any industry.
Construction: Scaffolding/Ladders, Slips/Falls (from elevation and on the same level), Machine Guarding, Right to Know – Material Safety Data Sheets (RTK-MSDS*), Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Sun/Heat Exposure Precautions, Back Injury Prevention/Proper Lifting, Confined Space Entry, Trenching & Shoring.
Janitorial/Motel/Restaurants: Blood Borne Pathogens, RTK-MSDS*, Slips/Falls, Back Injury Prevention, Repetitive Motion Injury Prevention, PPE, Fire and Chemical Safety
Landscaping: Slips/Falls, RTK-MSDS*, Sun/Heat Exposure Precautions, Back Injury Prevention, PPE, First Aid.
Healthcare: Back Injury Prevention/Proper Lifting, Slips/Falls, Violence – Physical Attacks, Blood Borne Pathogens, RTK-MSDS*, Slips/Falls.
Mexican consulates participate in the program by doing the following –
Spanish language workplace safety videos on loan from the Administration are shown for clients in the waiting area at the consulate on a daily basis. These videos are a part of the consulate’s educational approach for its clients that include the history of Mexico, United States laws, safe work practices and other information.
In a related and continuing effort, a senior member of the consulate's staff is highlighted in a video produced by the Administration and shown in the consulate's waiting area. The focus is on accident prevention, rights and responsibilities and actions to take if injured at work. Sources of help available through both the consulate and the Administration are identified.
Together with Spanish speakers from the business partners and the consulate, The Administration continues to participate in several Spanish language radio station call-in question and answer sessions to focus attention on accident prevention and discuss what to do if an accident happens. Recently, senior Administration officials participated in a Spanish language television news interview that focused on workers and highlighted the availability of the Administration to assist anyone.
The Administration has also increased emphasis on getting information out to the Spanish speaking community with advertisements and articles in a variety of Hispanic media - magazines, television and radio throughout the State. Additionally, a specific radio campaign was directly targeted to Spanish speaking workers and employers to increase knowledge and prevent accidents in New Mexico.
Spanish language wallet cards for workers, providing safety and workers’ compensation information, were developed by the Administration and delivered to the consulate for their use and distribution to the immigrant community. While seeming insignificant at first blush, these cards from the representatives of two governments have the weight of law behind them.. Immigrants carry the cards with them as they would an identification card or driver’s license. Because of its importance, the Administration plans to look at issuing the cards again and, potentially, expand distribution through other consulates in the United States. See Figure 1.
Figure 1 Spanish Language Wallet Card
English Translation (Front):
Workers in New Mexico
Workers’ compensation laws protect the majority of workers in New Mexico. If you suffer a work-related accident:
• For emergency medical assistance go to any emergency facility
• For any non-emergency medical assistance, get instructions from your employer as to where to go for medical treatment.
• Tell your employer about the accident as soon as possible,
• By law, you should file the Notice of Accident Form within 15 days of the accident,
• If you are injured at work, it’s possible your employer may be responsible to pay your authorized medical costs.
If you have questions, call the Workers’ Compensation Administration at 1-(866)-967-5667.
• Ask questions and get answers before beginning any job.
• If you work outside, drink plenty of fluids and wear long sleeved shirts.
• Never use alcohol or drugs at work
• Don’t accept jobs that put your life in danger. If you perform hazardous work, remember to use personal protective equipment and follow safety procedures.
• Personal protective equipment could save your body and your life. Use safety glasses, work gloves, safety shoes other required (safety) equipment.
Remember that it’s your responsibility to work safely!
In addition, a senior Administration official and several staff members have participated in three of the Mexican Consulate’s Informational Fairs for Immigrants from June 2004 through April 2005. These fairs are intended to provide information and legal advice to immigrant workers and their families in different fields such as workers’ compensation, labor rights, food programs, IRS, immigration and naturalization, motor vehicles, insurance, real estate, financial services, police and fire services and others. The Administration’s participation has led to direct intervention to ensure delivery of medical care and indemnity benefits, investigate bad acts, provide assistance and education and be an available and pro-active resource for the immigrant community.
The Workers’ Compensation Administration has also worked with the consulate and met with our State OSHA leaders to implement the provisions of the July 21, 2004, Letters of Agreement/Joint Declarations between the countries of Mexico and the United States to protect the well being of Mexican workers in the United States (New Mexico). It is important to note that the “parties” of the Letters of Agreement are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Mexican States through its Embassy and Consulates in the United States and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor of the United States of America.
For administrator purposes, the Letter of Agreement Concerning Workplace Safety and Health Protections Applicable to Mexican Workers in the United States is of the greatest significance. This letter outlines the objective – to promote the rights and well-being of Mexican workers in the United States through joint efforts between the parties and other relevant governmental agencies and private organizations in the United States, as appropriate and as mutually agreed upon by the parties. To further the objective, initiatives include making Mexican workers more aware of workplace laws and regulations; jointly developing, promoting and conducting training programs and other cooperative efforts to enhance worker safety. (The complete text of the Letter of Agreement may be found online at: www.osha.gov/international/index.html).. Jointly, with the consulate and New Mexico State OSHA, the Workers’ Compensation Administration will continue to explore new areas of cooperation to enhance worker safety in New Mexico.
In the future, the Mexican Consul would like to expand the program to include Spanish-speaking New Mexicans throughout the state in addition to the target audience in the Albuquerque area. The New Mexico Economic Development Division is also interested in supporting this work.
The excellent working relationship between the Consulate of Mexico and the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration continues to develop and grow with mutual recognition of common interests and respect for the roles each can play in addressing the target audience. We believe that the progress that has been made can be replicated in other jurisdictions and welcome the opportunity to help other states take the steps necessary to reach this important worker population.