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Hispanic Workers Face More Dangerous Conditions

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is “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. There can be no excuses for negligence in protecting workers, not even a language barrier.”

Her concern is borne out by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that show the number of Hispanic workers who die on the job has risen as the overall number of workplace deaths has declined. The statistics can be broken down further within the Hispanic community, with those workers born outside of the United States. For instance, according to the BLS, fatalities among foreign-born workers accounted for 74 percent of the fatalities among all Hispanic construction workers since it began collecting foreign-born information.

According to job safety officials, Hispanic immigrants, often unskilled and often in the United States illegally, are hired disproportionately into many of the most dangerous jobs, such as roofing, construction, agriculture and taxi driving.

“There are many reasons for the discrepancy in figures for workplace injuries and fatalities when it comes to Hispanic workers,” says Vincent Vallin Bennett, a trial attorney with the law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK). “Part of it is that often Hispanic workers are willing to accept the jobs that others won’t, whether it’s working the fields in the blistering heat day in and day out or climbing up on a roof without any protective gear.

“The unfortunate reality is that these workers are exposed to dangerous machinery and equipment with little, if any, training or protection so that they will be able to feed themselves and their families, with sometimes horrific consequences.

“Cultural differences and language barriers also come into play. We understand and respect these issues at GEK, which is why our Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation practice areas include Spanish-speaking attorneys and staff members. Not only has this made a great impact on the level of comfort and confidence many of our clients experience with us, but it also enhances our ability to fight for justice on their behalf.”

In addition, according to Bennett, “you have to take into consideration employee ignorance about workplace safety as well as employers who look the other way when it comes to safety and closing the communication and cultural gaps.”

Those gaps cause hundreds of people in California to be killed or have their lives changed drastically due to work-related injuries and illnesses. Los Angeles County, which employs a high percentage of Hispanic workers, many of whom are low-wage, immigrant or undocumented workers, accounts for roughly one-quarter of the state’s work-related fatalities, according to the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program, which is part of the California Department of Public Health.

According to FACE, between 1992 and 2007:

  • Hispanic workers accounted for 46 percent of all work-related fatalities in Los Angeles County.
  • Hispanic workers were 50 percent  more likely to die on the job than non-Hispanic workers.

The 10 occupations with the highest fatality rates for Hispanic workers in Los Angeles County in that same 15-year period (per 100,000 workers) according to FACE are:

    • Roofers (49.3)
    • Taxi drivers and chauffeurs (30.7)
    • Door-to-door sales and street vendors (26.4)
    • Security guards and gaming officers (25.1)
    • Construction laborers (20.6)
    • Electricians (17.7)
    • Welding, soldering, brazing workers (14.3)
    • Supervisors of construction workers (14.2)
    • Police officers (13)
    • Grounds maintenance workers (12.5)

Humanizing these statistics is one way to shed more light on them, which is a reason the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH) holds its annual Workers’ Memorial Day in commemoration of those who have died on the job.

SoCalCOSH is a coalition of local union, community group, health and legal advocates working to organize, educate and advocate for safe workplaces. “GEK has partnered with them for many years because we believe strongly in their goal of turning dangerous conditions into safe work areas,” says Bennett.

“Acknowledging the situation is only half the battle. We also have to find ways through a variety of risk management tools to enhance on-the-job safety for all workers. This could include everything from having more bi-lingual staff in safety inspection roles (as well as bilingual instructions and warnings) to addressing the fears that prevent workers from reporting injuries, illnesses and exposures.

“It’s not going to happen in a day, but we must make a concerted effort to start. Here at GEK we see first-hand the devastation a serious accident can have on a person and his or her family, whether it takes place on or off the job. There are life-long repercussions for not utilizing the proper resources to ensure safety.”  

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