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El Presidente

Bradley Hartmann is El Presidente of Red Angle (, a Spanish language training firm focused exclusively on the construcción industry. Hartmann has been successful improving Safety, Productivity and Profitability by speaking Spanish on the jobsite. Hartmann lived in Guadalajara, México during his undergraduate studies and later earned his MBA. Hartmann also teaches Construction Spanish at Purdue University’s Building Construction Management Program. He has authored 2 books - Spanish Twins: Start Speaking Spanish on the Construction Site with Words You Already Know and Safety Spanish: Simple Spanish Skills for Solving Safety Problems. Hartmann would love to hear your thoughts digitally at or verbally at 630.234.7321.

On Safety, Spanish and Forgiveness

September 11, 2013


As a member of the Association of Subcontractor and Affiliates (ASA) of Chicago, we try to share the collective expertise of the association. Like most organizations, we recognize the immense talent and intelligence within the group. There’s a lot of sharp individuals in the ASA.
The challenge is finding effective ways to share this wealth of knowledge.
So we’re trying something.  
We are developing an audio CD.
Each track will highlight a leader within the ASA membership candidly discussing a certain topic. We have tracks on marketing, social media, strategy, training and safety – all focused on helping members improve their business. 
While recording a track on safety, the safety director of a top GC firm made a great point.
“When it comes to safety, the challenge is focusing on something that will probably not result in an injury. Construction is not inherently dangerous. It’s just very unforgiving. Using the top two steps of a ladder won’t result in an injury 99% of the time. But… that one time out of a hundred is bad news….”
Construction is not inherently dangerous. It’s just very unforgiving.
The worst-case scenario may not happen very often, but when it does you’ll need a body bag.
Humans have an incredible ability to rationalize away fear.
We down four beers and drive home at midnight.
We fire off 12 text messages on the commute home in heavy traffic.
We light tobacco on fire near our face and then purposefully inhale it.
We pretend a stepladder can do the work of an extension ladder.
The worst case scenarios here are all bad.
They all end in some combination of death and dismemberment.
But in other cases, we ratchet up the fear factor when there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Public speaking, for example.
In the classic Jerry Seinfeld bit, he cites the top 2 things people are afraid of.
Death is #2.
What’s #1?
Public speaking.
The punchline: That means if you’re at a funeral, you’d rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy.
Language learning ideally leads to language speaking… that is, public speaking.
To overcome this fear, a big part of what we do at Red Angle is develop confidence. We teach Clients how to have fun speaking the Spanish that’s relevant in their life on the jobsite. We stress the importance of not taking ourselves too seriously.
In practicing your newfound language skills, there is no rational worst-case scenario.
I’ve consistently found extremely high levels of forgiveness among Spanish-speakers when novices practice their Spanish skills on the job.
No laughter.
No criticism.
I’ve found nothing short of appreciation.
(Probably because it happens so rarely.)
The irony here is that Hispanics are nearly 2x as likely to be injured or killed on the job due to language barriers. There is little forgiveness here.
To reverse this trend, predominantly English-speaking leaders need to learn some basic Safety Spanish skills.
Improve communication >> Improve leadership >> Improve training >> Improve safety.
We can leverage the abundance of language forgiveness (by practicing Safety Spanish) to counteract the lack of construction forgiveness (as in Spanish-speakers dying).
Next time you’re on the job, say CUIDADO (kwee-DAH-doh) Careful.
Next time you attend a funeral, opt for giving the eulogy.
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