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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.