I have few regrets in life so far, but certainly one of them is not becoming fluent in Spanish. Many times I have recognized how competence in speaking Spanish would make me better at what I do. That being said, I appreciate all of you who help me and others by translating, speaking bilingually, and ensuring that we provide training, information and the teaching of best practices to everyone in our workforce.
Our Institute offers a big thank you to Oregon OSHA for initiating and implementing our state’s first ever “entirely in Spanish” safety conference, free to attendees. We were pleased to join the other attending exhibitors and sponsors to be part of this week’s event – Seguridad, salud y sus derechos en el trabajo – held at the Salem Fairgrounds. Approximately 200 people attended this conference, with agriculture, construction and services being the most represented industries. I learned from Oregon OSHA’s Conference Team about the positive evaluations shared after the event, including how much attendees appreciated learning about workplace safety and health in their first language, and that they could ask questions and receive immediate and honest answers. We are pleased to hear of this success, especially for a first event that was scheduled on a fairly short timeline, and appreciate all the employers who encouraged or supported their employees to attend.
I attended this event, not as a technical or outreach expert, but to show my support. I knew that my lack of Spanish would limit effective communication, and I appreciate my colleague and native Spanish speaker David Hurtado to help us fulfill our mission at this event. Dr. Hurtado joined many other Spanish-speaking safety and health experts from Oregon OSHA, SAIF, Oregon Law Center, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, and Oregon Worker Compensation Division, among others. It was powerful for me upon opening our exhibit to be asked, “Do you speak Spanish?” I responded, “No, un poco. Not really. Do you speak English?” When our exhibit visitor responded that he did not, I was fortunate to have David scoot over to continue a lengthy conversation.
I applaud Oregon OSHA’s Administrator, a non-Spanish speaker like myself, for making the effort to offer his opening welcome entirely in Spanish. I know it was eye-opening for him to experience the anxiety and fear of making a mistake in his talk, and to recognize how many others feel this way at work when being in a situation where they must communicate as a language learner. Mr. Wood also received a few (kind) laughs when his pronunciation was off. He expected this, but we can imagine another employee in a less friendly or supportive environment feeling differently, and limiting engagement because of it.
Good work, Oregon OSHA, and all of the sponsors, supporters, presenters and attendees. I look forward to this becoming an annual tradition.