September 23rd, 2015 10:51 am ET - Mike Flynn, Pietra Check, Amy Filko, Nura Sadeghpour
This is the fourth in a series of blogs describing the development and purpose of the Protéjase educational materials. These materials were created as part of NIOSH’s mission to conduct research and determine effective ways of delivering occupational safety and health information. Organizations that serve Spanish-speaking immigrant workers can use these materials to encourage workers to think about their health and safety on the job and to seek assistance if they have a related question or concern. NIOSH released the Protéjasematerials during Labor Rights Week in August 2015. They are available in English andSpanish. This blog discusses how the infrastructure of the Mexican consular network supports the Protéjase project and helps workers act on the information they receive through the materials.
NIOSH has been working with the Mexican Foreign Ministry on creating occupational safety and health (OSH) materials to distribute through Mexican consulates,1 which are satellite offices of the embassy. Over the past decade, Mexico has expanded the functions of its 50 U.S. consulates to include programs for improving the general welfare of Mexican immigrants in the United States.2 The consulates are more than just convenient places to reach immigrant workers with safety information. The Mexican consular network also provides institutional support that can help immigrant workers find resources to help them overcome many of the barriers to workplace safety that they face.2
Increasing awareness of workplace hazards and exposures and of basic protection measures is a first step to improving immigrants’ workplace safety and health. However, awareness and information alone are not enough. Resources that help them navigate the labor and health systems, negotiate with managers, effectively act on their labor rights, and access services from organizations that advocate for and support immigrants and workers may better facilitate change in workplaces. The infrastructure of the Mexican consular system in the United States connects workers with not only necessary information but also the health, social, community, and legal services they may need to empower and advocate for themselves and improve their workplace safety and health.
The cornerstone of health promotion activities in the Mexican consulates is the Health Windows (Ventanillas de Salud) program, which is managed by the Mexican Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Mexicans Abroad.3 The Health Windows program currently operates in all 50 U.S. consulates and each year provides about 1 million service contacts, providing services such as health education, screenings, and referrals to local health care and other service providers.4 NIOSH has worked closely with the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, immigrant-serving organizations, and immigrant workers to integrate OSH educational materials into the information channels used by theVentanillas de Salud.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry’s Protection Department (Departamento de Protección a Mexicanos), which also operates in each of the 50 U.S. consulates, provides individual assistance on immigration, human rights, and legal issues, among others. Though employers have a legal responsibility to provide safe working conditions, the goal of our project is to help workers understand the spectrum of options available to them for learning about and advocating for their safety and health in the workplace. The legal infrastructure at the Consulates is an invaluable resource for workers to ask questions about their legal rights and their employer’s responsibilities under the law, and to access legal assistance if necessary. They can couple the Health Windows information and referrals with Protection Department services, such as legal orientation, case management, and referrals to community groups or attorneys who can help them interact with the U.S. labor system. This type of support will allow the consulates to track cases and identify systemic barriers that could be addressed with the relevant U.S. agencies.
NIOSH works closely with both the Ventanillas de Salud and the Departamento de Proteccion to find ways to integrate OSH into their existing activities and infrastructure. The relationship created during the Protéjase project has allowed for expansion of the partnership to further address these OSH issues. The focus of this ongoing collaboration is to develop the internal capacity of these Mexican institutions to promote OSH among Mexican immigrants and that of NIOSH to create effective, sustainable initiatives to better document and reduce occupational health disparities for Mexican immigrants in the United States. For more information on this collaboration, see the article in Public Health Reports.1
Although the consulates are trusted venues with an excellent infrastructure serving to connect immigrant workers with their local resources, the Protéjase materials can be distributed by any organization that serves Mexican immigrant communities. We encourage you to promote these materials to help workers learn about their rights on the job, potential hazards in their workplaces, and resources in their local communities that can help. Tell us about other partnerships you know of that are working to promote workplace safety for immigrant workers.
Michael Flynn, MA, is a Social Scientist in the NIOSH Education and Information Division and Assistant Coordinator of the Priority Populations and Health Disparities Program.
Pietra Check, MPH, is Deputy Director of the NIOSH Office of Agriculture Safety and Health and Coordinator of the Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing Program.
Amy Filko, BA, is a Visual Information Specialist in the NIOSH World Trade Center Heath Program.
Nura Sadeghpour, MPH, is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of the Director.