It was during my time with the National Guard when I first learned about the construction industry. While on a mission in Iraq, I talked with friends who were civilian service members in construction and those conversations prompted me to get my Construction Management degree at the University of Houston after my tour. I joined the construction industry in my early thirties, which is when I noticed Latin Americans were well represented on jobsites (about 80 to 90 percent), but executive leadership wasn’t as diverse.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s important to highlight the impact this minority community has on the construction industry and the measures implemented to keep projects, which heavily impact the economy, going. A June 2020 report from the CDC revealed that Hispanic people comprise 33 percent of COVID-19 cases, while this community only represents 18 percent of the U.S. population. Given that such a high percentage of construction workers in Texas are Hispanic, a comprehensive communication and education strategy is necessary to help the Latino construction population protect themselves, their co-workers and their families.
As an environmental health and safety (EHS) director for Skanska, one of the country’s leading construction and development firms, my interest in promoting health in the Hispanic construction community is both personal and professional. On a larger scale, Skanska has invested deeply in supporting diversity across its workforce and subcontractors. In Texas, we are committed to the ideal that investing in the health, growth and stability of small, women-owned, and/or minority-owned businesses is the surest path toward excellence as a company.
Noting the vulnerable position many of our workers have found themselves in currently and throughout the pandemic, we’ve renewed our commitment to ensuring our jobsites follow best practices to foster safety. These best practices include portable hand washing stations, thermal imaging to automate body temperature screenings and antimicrobial technology to keep surfaces clean. We have found that many of our communities may not be aware of the government’s health recommendations or know where to get help, if needed.
As safety professionals, we have to tackle this pandemic in the right way in order to get back to work and protect our workers and the people around us.
As an industry, it’s critical that we continue to promote efforts to share health and safety messages with the construction community. We recognize that many cases of the coronavirus’s community spread happen within families, so we’ve shared health-related information and resources, like posters that list safe activities to partake in off the jobsite, that team members can refer to while at home to help minimize COVID-19 exposure and risks. We’ve also brought together employee representatives from diverse groups to solicit input on policies and procedures to improve health outcomes, both on and off the jobsite. It’s our hope that these proactive efforts will help mitigate health threats, particularly within the Latino community, moving forward.
All that being said, our triumph over COVID-19 will require a collective effort. It is essential for us all to promote education and provide resources in order to help all of our communities avoid infection, remain healthy and return to a new, productive normal. By investing in the health of our Hispanic friends and neighbors, we build bonds that make a stronger community with healthier and more resilient businesses and personal lives once the specter of the pandemic has passed.