Foreign-Born and Young Flat Glass Employees are More Prone to Workplace Injuries

November 29th, 2012 by DWM Magazine

Window companies that make their own insulating glass will be interested in a webinar that took place this week which warned an audience of flat glass attendees to avoid becoming too comfortable in the work environment, especially when it comes to young and foreign-born workers. These groups are the most at risk for severe injuries and fatalities in the shop environment according to Mike Burk of Quanex Building Products and chair of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance’s (IGMA) Glass Safety Awareness Council. The information was presented during a safety webinar presented by IGMA and the Glass Association of North America (GANA).

In 2011 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recorded 3,609 fatal work injuries in the United States. Burk mentioned most of the flat glass industry fatalities occur from employees being struck by an object or piece of equipment. He also noted that according to the BLS, fatal work injuries were higher for workers 20 to 24 years of age, with deaths rising 18 percent in 2011 to 288 from 245 in 2010. Burk attributed this increase to younger workers’ attitude, substance abuse and lack of experience.

“They act like they’re invincible but the reality is their actions can cause the injuries or deaths of others,” said Burk.

Burk advised supervisors to play a more active role in developing healthy working habits early on in the young workers’ careers by correcting the mistakes of young workers through observation. Another factor that can decrease workplace safety is a lack of communication, said Burk. For young workers it can be intimidating to walk into a new company, and employees may be embarrassed to ask questions. Burk recommends supervisors encourage employees to speak up and create a line of communication. In the presentation Burk also suggested younger workers should be assigned experienced employees as mentors and not just utilize the supervisor to answer questions and give hands-on training.

“It’s probably their first time in the glass plant and there are more things you need to take into consideration other than the normal safety instructions,” said Burk.

Burk also explained that foreign-born workers also have an increased risk of fatality in the shop environment. From 1992 to 2002 foreign-born worker fatalities increased 46 percent, according to an immigrant workers report conducted by Pia Orrenius, assistant vice president and senior economist Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Madeline Zavodny, professor of economics at Agnes Scott College.

“You look back in history and people come to the United States in search of a better life,” said Burk. “They were willing to take riskier jobs to earn a living. I believe that’s still true today.”

Burk accredits cultural barriers as well as low levels of education, social capital and limited English as factors that can affect foreign-born employees’ understanding of jobs and their safety risks. Burk encourages supervisors to assign bilingual employees with experience as mentors to these workers. He also explained that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is taking proactive steps to increase the safety of foreign-born workers with items such as increasing the number of Spanish language materials about job safety and health.

In his closing thoughts, Burk urged flat glass supervisors and employees to stay aware throughout the workday to increase safety.

“No one should go to work worrying if they are going to make it home alive.”

by Kaitlan Mitchell, kmitchell@glass.com

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  1. “The highest form of respect for our employees is safety “, said one of my General Managers. This has stuck with me. In my career I’ve seen many accidents… most of them preventable. I have seen hundreds of employees as described in this article that fall in the group of foreign born, young and accident prone. I do believe that they are more apt to be hurt. In general the training has to be reinforced everyday, over and over. I worked in a manufacturing plant that had no recordables in a year! Impossible they say! True. We got money back from workman’s comp… safety really does “pay”.

    Glass lines are fast paces, crowded and require strict rules that are enforced as well as training. To avoid accidents there has to be proper training, strict rules, and an enticement policy to moves those employees out if they continue to be a safety hazard by their reactions.

    Thanks for this article. I can say safety is close to my heart. I think that safety should have a full time place in the magazine to raise awareness in management if how to, the dangers and liabilities and success stories. In an industry where not much is shared, remember there is nothing PROPRIETARY about keeping someone safe!

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