OSHA GOES LOCAL: Austin-based non-profit educates hard-to-reach construction workers

Filed in Education, Safety by on August 30, 2011 9 Comments

Workers Defense Project, an Austin-based non-profit organization that empowers low-income workers to achieve fair employment and safe working conditions, has developed a new worker health and safety program with assistance from a 2010 Occupational Safety and Health Administration Susan Harwood grant

Austin’s construction workers face high rates of dangerous working conditions, death on the job (every 2.5 days a construction worker dies in Texas), and denial of legal protections. According to 2009 survey data of Austin’s 50,000 construction workers, 61% have less then a middle school education, 64% have received no health and safety training, and 71% are monolingual Spanish speakers. These are truly “hard-to-reach” construction workers, as defined by OSHA.

To educate these workers about safety rights and regulations — a key task to preventing serious injury and death on the job —WDP developed a safety training program called “CEPA,” which features short 30-minute job-site based trainings, a longer 2-4 hour training, 4 safety videos and brochures, and an accompanying 60-page safety manual and a 40-page train-the-trainer/facilitator manual. The training name, CEPA (which carries the multiple meanings of “foundations,” “being authentic,” and “knowing”), is a Spanish acronym for the four topic areas—controlling workplace hazards, electrical safety, protection under OSHA, and fall safety. 

After watching an original WDP safety video on working in hot weather safely, training participants consult materials from OSHA’s recent “Water, Rest, Shade” campaign.

With CEPA, WDP has created a powerful education model that links OSHA safety information with grassroots community organizing and education. Unlike many safety trainings, which use traditional lecture-style formats and little student-to-student participation, the CEPA approach uses participatory teaching and peer-to-peer learning.

Training participants use print materials developed by Workers Defense Project and OSHA. Here, workers use materials from OSHA’s recent “Water, Rest, Shade” campaign.

CEPA’s “participatory empowerment approach,” rooted in popular and adult education paradigms, has facilitators and workers share collective knowledge and experience to develop concrete solutions to common safety hazards in construction. During the training, workers not only learn about a broad range of safety topics, participants also practice skits on how to talk with co-workers and employers about safety hazards, and they learn how to organize on the job to promote safer working conditions.

Cover for the 40-page facilitator manual (Spanish version). The quotation reads: “CEPA, a program by Workers Defense Project, teaches workers how to be safer on the job and how to improve conditions in construction work. – The workers of Workers Defense Project”

Agustin Salgado, an experienced safety training facilitator at WDP, stated, “the membership-building and organizing component of this safety class is key. Workers learn about the importance of unity and solidarity, and they see how being organized can translate into concrete changes at the workplace and in the community.”

“Our goal is not only to educate workers about worksite dangers and how to correct them to be safer on the job,” said Cyndi Jimenez, member and volunteer at WDP. “As with all of our worker education programs, we seek to empower low-wage workers to make broad changes in the construction industry and the community as a whole. CEPA is part of a larger effort to build community, develop leaders, and unite workers and their allies to promote safe and fair working conditions for all workers.”

The first graduating class of CEPA Safety Training Facilitators. 9 workers and volunteers attended an 8-hour train-the-trainer course to become certified CEPA facilitators at Workers Defense Project on August 13, 2011.

Since the program’s start in July of 2011, WDP has graduated 22 new workers from the safety course and has trained 9 workers as lead CEPA facilitators, and WDP plans to educate over 600 hard-to-reach construction workers statewide in 2012.

Editor’s Note: The Author, Jason Cato is a Workforce Development Trainer and Staff Photographer at Workers Defense Project.

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Comments (9)

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  1. Glad to see this training conducted for the group. Should be mandatory OSHA training for all construction site workers.

  2. Danzel says:

    Working so long and working so hard, and earning more that is the sign of working in progress. Great information you have shared. I think everyone should learn from this. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Gregg Stoerrle says:

    CEPA are you kidding me. OSHA can not even protect whistleblowers who report hazards. I know im a whistleblower who provided complete documentation of what was going on and how we were retaliated against.The article even states these workers are generaly denied legal protection . The first thing an employer will do if just one of these workers try and speak up about safety will be like putting a target on there back. I am an American ,military dad,registered voter,tax payer, and i am being denied my right to legal protection with OSHA 11C. P.E.E.R even stated whistleblowers are like lambs being led to slaughter.Now you have CEPA lambs but many are spanish so a guess they will recieve preferential treatment fom OSHA 11C right ms Solis?
    Even your 11C investigator stated to me how weak OSHA Whistleblower protection program is and now your going to put these people in danger of losing there jobs with hollow protection! You have GOT to be kidding me!
    Gregg Stoerrle
    Please do not deny my right to free speech by denying my post on this government web site.

  4. Margo Hudson says:

    We need a national, one payer healthplan for our citizens and our country to keep all of us healthy and well cared for. The wealthiest country in the world should make sure all people in it and whom visit get the best healthcare without worrying about costs. Let us tax the rich and create more jobs for all our citizens.

  5. Glad to see this training conducted for the group. Too often overlooked among this population, cannot do anything but help. Thank you,

  6. Bojana says:

    I am so glad that someone is trying to teach site workers how to take care of themseves…

  7. Marc Bianco says:

    It’s great to see someone is donating the time to help keep the workplace safe!

  8. tyler says:

    Safety awareness is key in the workplace. Great to see the word getting spread!

  9. Erik says:

    A good read, thanks for posting this ! Glad to see working safety awareness being pushed.

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