Deaths among Latino workers rise

The number of Latino workers who die on the job has risen 76 percent since 1992, even as the total number of workplace deaths has declined, federal statistics show.

In 1992 the number of reported Latino deaths on the job was 533. In a 2007 tally, the latest available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 937 Latino workers died while working.

Overall fatalities throughout the U.S. fell from 6,217 to 5,657 within the same period.

“I am particularly concerned about our Hispanic workforce, as Latinos often work low-wage jobs and are more susceptible to injuries in the workplace than other workers,” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told USA Today. “There can be no excuses for negligence in protecting workers, not even a language barrier.”

In Texas, Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials investigated 50 Latino workplace deaths last year. OSHA has already investigated 21 fatalities this year, including the deaths of three Austin workers who fell 11 stories from a collapsed scaffolding in June.

Falling off roofs, run over by trucks or crushed under heavy machinery is all too common says the Austin-based Workers Defense Project. So far this year four deaths among Latino workers have been reported there.

More than half of construction-related deaths in Texas are Latino workers.

Some say the rise in Latino workers who die on the job points to the fact that more Latinos have joined the U.S. workforce over the last 10 years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Latinos represented 10.4 percent of the U.S. labor force in 1998. In 2007 Latinos represented 14 percent.

Labor leaders, immigrant rights advocates and Latino civil rights groups say too many employers exploit Latino workers and these workers often lack communication skills and proper training, which in turn leads to an increase in accidents and deaths.

When immigrants lack the support and rights guaranteed by joining a union, they are more likely to encounter hazardous jobs that are ultimately unprotected, these groups charge.

Immigrant workers without legal documentation are less likely to join a union, studies show. But it’s precisely these workers that are doing the most dangerous work for longer hours with little to no protections, immigrant rights leaders say.

All workers including immigrants should be guaranteed protections under the law regardless of what country they originally come from or what language they speak, and should receive proper training when it comes to risky jobs, critics say. The ability to join a union is a basic American right and every worker should be assured such protections, they add.

Labor leaders and allies say passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which makes it easier for workers to organize and join unions, will defend all workers when it comes to their safety and rights on the job as well as health care and other benefits.

plozano @ pww.org