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Hector Escarcega

President, Bilingual Solutions International; bilingual human resources trainer, consultant and speaker

Hector Escarcega Escarcega has been instrumental in increasing awareness about the hazards faced by Latino workers and helping train this huge segment of the workforce.

Resume: He has 28 years of experience in the field of risk management and safety. He is fluent in both Spanish and English. He has previously worked as safety specialist for ARCO Petroleum Products, safety director for the City of Glendale (Calif.), risk management executive for Tokio Marine Management, and loss control-safety consultant with Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Schools:  He received his master’s degree and undergraduate degree in public administration and occupational health and safety from the University of Southern California.

Certifications/Designations:  Escarcega is certified as an associate in risk management, a Certified Safety Professional and a Certified Seminar Leader. He is an authorized trainer for OSHA 10- and 30-hour classes. He is also a member of the National Speakers Association, Latin Business Association, Risk and Insurance Management Society, American Industrial Hygiene Association, and has served as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers.

 

Q&A

 

What are the top issues in California occupational safety and health today?

There are a couple things. When we talk about hazards, there are falls from elevated heights and from platforms. In addition, there are the hazards associated with heat stress and ergonomic issues. Another important safety issue is working with a multicultural workforce. Of these concerns, the two things that I would focus on would be the ergonomic and the multicultural issue. I think Cal/OSHA needs to come up with a little better standard when we’re talking about ergonomics. Even though there is no ergonomics standard at the federal level, California does have its own standard, which is a good thing. But there is a lot of room for improvement. I would like to see the ergonomic standard become a little bit more detailed or a little more explanation of what’s required in ergonomics. A program that is more proactive and user friendly when it comes to ergonomics.

 

Injury and illness rates continue to decrease, with some exceptions. What's the next great leap forward in occupational safety and health?

Like I mentioned in the first question, falls, heat stress, ergonomics and multicultural. While the rates are decreasing, they are increasing for certain ethnic groups like the Hispanic, Spanish-speaking workforce. Unfortunately, many employers still are not in compliance with OSHA-related standards, let alone the issues that exist due to a multicultural workforce. While the Spanish-speaking workforce is probably the largest and fastest-growing multicultural workforce, there are other ethnicities, such as Filipino, Asian and European backgrounds. Many of these multicultural workforces are desperate for work and as a result will work with high risks and ask [few] questions so as to not make waves. Employers are having more of a challenge communicating safety concerns, rules, standards, ideas, with the employees. I would like to see Cal/OSHA consider making a specific standard to address this communication and cultural issue. I would like to see more training programs in Spanish for employers and more resources and support in closing this communication cultural gap.

 

One group -- Hispanics/Latinos -- suffers a disproportionate number of injuries and illnesses. Why? How should California address this problem?

There are a number of reasons why there are a disproportionate injuries and illnesses with the Hispanic/Latino workforce. One is the language barrier. Two is the cultural differences. Three is the lack of appropriate safety training in a language they understand, which is Spanish. The fourth reason is, on occasion some employers will take advantage of the Hispanic desperation for making ends meet and wanting to work. As a result some employers will take advantage by asking Hispanic workers to work in dangerous, dirty and hazardous jobs knowing full well that they should first provide OSHA-required safety training and safety equipment but ignore this responsibility because they know many Hispanic workers won’t speak up or make waves for fear of reprisal or reprimand. I think OSHA should put a stronger emphasis on making sure that training is conducted in a language that the employees understand.

Possibly Cal/OSHA should apply the ANSI standard, ANSI/ASSE Z490.1-2009 (American National Standards Institute) for safety training titled “Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health and Environmental Training.” There are about four or five requirements with regard to making sure training is effective.

I think we need to emphasize and focus on better quality training and make sure the training is done in a language the non-English-speaking worker understands. Sometimes employers will have their Spanish-speaking workers sit in an English-language safety training class and be satisfied with that, which is inappropriate. We need to pay more attention to making sure the employee receives effective training and training in a language they understand. In this case the training should be in Spanish.

 My suggestion is Cal/OSHA follow the training criteria mentioned in ANSI/ASSE Z490.1-2009

“Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health and Environmental Training.”   While these are only recommendations, Cal/ OSHA could adopt them and enforce them. In brief, the four key elements of this document consist of:

  1. Training Development
  2. Training Delivery
  3. Training Evaluation
  4. Documentation and Recordkeeping 

 

The Injury and Illness Prevention Program is the basic safety requirement for California employers. Now Fed-OSHA is working toward adopting its version of this requirement. Does the California IIPP standard need revision or is it fine the way it is? And if it needs revision, how so?

I think the way California has its Injury and Illness Prevention Program is fine. In my opinion it goes above and beyond what federal OSHA is looking at developing, called the I2P2. If you look at what Fed-OSHA is considering at implementing as part of their I2P2, it is pretty much identical to Cal/OSHA’s IIPP Program. The only one thing that I see Fed-OSHA’s I2P2 program missing is the element of incident investigation, which Cal/OSHA already addresses. I still think that Cal/OSHA is going above and beyond Fed-OSHA.

 

If you could change anything about Cal/OSHA, what would it be?
                a. Should enforcement be increased?
                b. Communications
                c. Training for inspectors

I would ask Cal/OSHA to improve the resources that are available on their website. Make them a little more user friendly. Also, the codification of standards many times is difficult to find, read and decipher in comparison to the federal OSHA standards. If I could change anything it would be to make it simpler to understand and read the Cal/OSHA standards, both in construction and general industry. Last, I would like to see Cal/OSHA have more enforcement and more citations for those employers who are not in compliance with the required Cal/OSHA standards.

 

Some observers say injury and illness rates are higher than they appear because employers find ways to hide injuries, or not record them. Do you agree this is a serious problem and if so, how should it be addressed?

I really don’t know how big a problem this is, but I have heard of employers fudging their numbers so it looks better than what it really is. This is not appropriate, because it is obviously not giving us a clear picture of what safety numbers are and what safety hazards exists. By identifying the true picture of accidents and injuries, this allows safety professionals and OSHA to see what the real issues are and hopefully correct them so they don’t happen again.

Plus if an organization or employer is hiding their numbers or changing them, you have to stop and wonder what else are they doing against workplace hazards and workplace safety. It is highly possible that they are not providing proper safety training, not educating their workforce, not giving them the appropriate personal protective equipment. We need really look into this and delve into it.

 

California has a long history of crafting groundbreaking regulations that the rest of the country eventually picks up. What's the next one?

I think it is going to be having to deal with better and more effective safety training, also something dealing with how to work effectively with a multicultural workforce. I think the United States has a variety of different ethnicities in the workplace.

We have this major issue of having a multicultural workforce and there being a gap between effective communication and safety training. It is something I am hoping Cal/OSHA will take a look at to improve.

 

Will AB 2774 resolve the problems cited by DOSH on serious violations and provide a more equitable appeals system? If not, how should it be reformed?

I think it will, as long as we adhere to the new Assembly bill on serious violations. I think it sends a message to employers that we’re serious about workplace safety. Having the violations stick, that it is incumbent on the employer to take workplace safety seriously and create a safe working environment. Definitely a good start with AB2774. It is about time that we put a little more teeth in the system and we should continue to move in that direction.

 

Should DOSH approach enforcement with more of an eye toward achieving compliance, rather than looking for violations to cite? And if so, would such an approach work?

I think it should still be a dual-prong approach, meaning where they are out of compliance, educate them. Let them know where they are out of compliance. Make it clear if they don’t make things better, they should be cited. Definitely, I think, it should be a little bit of both.

 

What should Cal/OSHA do to help small employers create safe workplaces and comply with Title 8 regulations?

I think they need to have better marketing advertisement about what Cal/OSHA does. How they can be of assistance to the small-business owner. In languages that the small-business owner might need it, Spanish, Chinese, Filipino or Tagalog. Maybe hold workshops that business owners can come to and find out what their responsibilities are under Cal/OSHA Title 8 regulations.

 

What about safety do employers struggle with the most?
The number one issue that employers struggle with when it comes to workplace safety and OSHA is:

  1. Understanding that workplace safety requires a commitment and that if done correctly this commitment to safety provides big dividends in the form of returns on investment with increased employee morale, increased productivity and profits and improved quality.
  2. Employers struggle with understanding who OSHA is and that they need to follow certain OSHA standards. They don’t really understand this.
  3. Employers struggle with knowing where to find the standards and how to interpret them.
  4. Employers struggle with once they do find the standards and interpret and understand them, how to implement the standards in the workplace. Part of implementing the standards in the workplace is developing specific safety programs around, or related to, the safety standards and then conducting the training.

 

Are there reliable and knowledgeable training people available?

Yes, there are some good safety trainers and consultants out there and then there are some trainers that have no business as safety trainers and consultants. I think maybe there needs to be some sort of accreditation or certification before someone is allowed to train in this area of workplace safety. If we stop and think about it, many times we have people who act as trainers who come to the front of the classroom and say we’re going to train on this topic, but they don’t even understand it. Then what happens is the audience or employees don’t really question them. And ultimately, they go out into the workplace thinking they did a good job in training and in reality they did a poor job.

 

What kind of training is the most crucial for employers to provide?

I think it has to be training that is well thought out, planned and delivered effectively to the point that employees understand what they have to do out in the workplace. When we provide training we make sure that we know the subject matter, we know the audience and industry and we make sure that the training is delivered with content that addresses the senses of audio, visual and kinesthetic or hands-on training. We also try to make sure that there is some kind of evaluation system involved to make sure employees understand and comprehend what is taught.

 

What else do you read to get your occupational safety and health information?

I am affiliated with a number of professional safety organizations. I belong to the American Society of Safety Engineers. I’m affiliated with the National Safety Council. Plus I keep in touch with other safety professionals. I do a lot of research and reading on my own. I develop and present up-to-date safety topics, seminars and training programs, which requires me to stay on the cutting edge of occupational health and safety. I am also on the staff with the OSHA training Institute in Region 9, San Diego. So I’m kept abreast of changes by working with them. I also teach out of UCLA, the Southern California Educational Research Center, the NIOSH training center. So all of these organizations keep me up to date within the area of occupational health and safety.

 

How did you get started in safety? Was there any particular experience in your career that triggered your interest in safety? What’s interesting about it? What’s interesting about it now?

I think I’ve always had an affinity, a natural attraction to physiology and biology. At one time I thought of going into the medical field. For whatever reasons, I was redirected. I found there was an interest in the field of occupational health and safety because it dealt with the human body, preventing accidents, illnesses and injuries. So there was the natural connection to preventing adverse health effects to the human body. But it also involved getting out to the field and learning about different types of businesses and operations, and about how things are made and manufactured.

It combined both worlds of health, physiology and the manufacturing process and getting out to the field to meet and talk to workers. I enjoyed interacting and communicating with workers. I think naturally when I transferred over to USC, they had a safety and systems management program, and a safety degree program. I remember taking three classes under that program and it was the first time I ever got all A’s in my life. I thought maybe there’s something here. I had to work for those A’s, but there was a passion there, a natural interest. That’s when I first remember being interested, passionate and moving in the direction of health and safety. This got me a degree in safety and my first job as a loss prevention representative with a well-known insurance company. I moved in the direction of a master’s degree in industrial hygiene. Since then I’ve become more proficient and competent by getting my certification as a safety professional at CSP, and have worked as a safety director for a large municipality in Southern California as well as a major oil company as a safety specialist. Since then I also obtained my ARM certification known as an associate in risk management.

 

What’s interesting about it now?

It seems more and more employers are becoming more and more interested in how to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. I’m also seeing I have a natural ability to share and communicate basic health and safety concepts with both participants in training classes as well as the clients. Clients and participants in our training courses see that I’m genuinely interested in making a positive difference when it comes to workplace safety. When I see an employer-client accept or listen to some of the advice I have shared with them, and they implement it and make a positive difference, that’s what it is all about for me. Hopefully, this one positive action can prevent an injury or an illness. This is what is important to me.

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