Manure Manager

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Effectively communicating manure related safety to your Hispanic workers

April 4, 2008  by James M Meyers

increasing number of Hispanic/Latino workers at intensive livestock
operations throughout North America reinforces the need to take a good,
hard look at how you are communicating safety to your employees.

    The increasing number of Hispanic/Latino workers at intensive livestock operations throughout North America reinforces the need to take a good, hard look at how you are communicating safety to your employees.

    What may work well for English-speaking workers who were born in the United States and are high school

graduates could be totally ineffective for workers who don’t speak English and had little formal education in their native countries. The challenge for livestock owners and managers is to ensure that hazards and potential hazards have been clearly identified and are understood by all employees.

    The potential hazards in livestock operations are numerous. Primary among them are the animals themselves and the knowledge that your workers may have little or no understanding of how to work with livestock. They also include: slippery working surfaces; lifting and carrying heavy loads (50 pounds or more); open manure ponds/lagoons; pumps, gates, valves, impellers, and other parts of a manure pond system that may need replacement or repair; skid-steer loaders, manure separators, spreaders, mixers, digesters, and other equipment; dairy cows or swine; and the build-up of hydrogen sulfide, methane, and other potentially lethal gases.


    Clearly, any hazards or potential hazards you identify need to be alleviated to the extent possible. When hazards cannot be eliminated, steps must be taken to reduce the risks of employee exposure. Such steps may include ensuring that fenced areas and chutes have escape openings; training workers on animal handling; providing appropriate personal protective equipment (for example, dust masks when working with moldy feed); posting understandable “Danger-Warning” signs; and training workers on such issues as staying out of manure pits and other confined spaces unless they have the proper equipment and have been specifically authorized and trained.

    Some livestock operation owners make the mistake of thinking that marking hazards with English/Spanish signage is enough to warn Spanish-speaking employees of their dangers. The problem, however, is that many Spanish-speaking workers who migrate from Mexico and other countries have limited reading and writing skills—even in their own native language. Additionally, they may not understand or interpret common visual symbols the same way.

Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure that your workers and supervisors know that you value safety! Research has shown that workers’ perception of management support for safety is closely associated with safe work practices.

  • Understand your workers’ cultures. This is important so you are aware of any cultural barriers that may inhibit effective communication. For example, in many Hispanic cultures, it is considered disrespectful to have direct eye contact with—or even question—persons in “authority.” What this means is that your Hispanic workers may not ask safety-related questions of their supervisors, even when they do not understand what they were told.

  • Always orally explain all safety signage, instructions, etc in your workers’ native language(s), model appropriate behavior, and verify learning. Use pictures, symbols, and other graphics to supplement written words. Incorporate hands-on demonstrations into your training, and verify learning by asking workers to demonstrate understanding and safe practices.

  • Know that there are many different dialects of Spanish. For example, the Spanish spoken by workers from small rural villages in Mexico may not be the same as that of your other workers. Or, they may primarily speak a native language and not understand Spanish very well.

  • Communicate safety in a manner most likely to impact your workers. “Family,” for example, is very important to the Hispanic/Latino culture. Telling a Hispanic employee that it is critical to use respiratory protection in certain situations because a failure to do so means he could get very sick and be unable to provide for his family will be far more effective than telling him he has to use it so he doesn’t “get sick and die.”

  • Know that your Spanish-speaking workers may have had no safety training  in their native country(ies). Risk-taking may well be more accepted. They may also be totally unfamiliar with the hazards and equipment in your workplace.

  • Make use of your own bilingual Hispanic/Latino workers. Talk with them about all of these issues, and seek their assistance in explaining hazards and in orally training other Spanish-speaking workers. Make sure that both they and you model safe practices.

  • Utilize other available resources. These include Spanish-language videos, and translators, if necessary. Some free Spanish language training resources can be found at:

James M Meyers is the director of the California Farm Safety Program, a cooperative effort of the USDA and the University of California. In addition to his farm safety work, he and a team of cooperators established the University of California Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center, which conducts research on the identification, analysis, and control of ergonomic risk factors in agricultural workplaces. Meyers is located in the School of Public Health at the University of California-Berkeley. 


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