The number of Hispanic workers who die on the job has risen, even as the
overall number of workplace deaths has declined, according to federal
Hispanic worker deaths increased from 533 in 1992 to 937 in 2007 —
a 76% jump. In the same period, total fatalities in all jobs nationwide
fell from 6,217 to 5,657, according to the data. The 2007 tally, the latest
available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, followed a record
990 Hispanic deaths in 2006.
Last year, officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
office in Dallas investigated 50 Hispanic workplace deaths in Texas alone,
according to OSHA figures. So far this year, they've investigated
21 fatalities, including three workers who fell 11 stories from a collapsed
scaffolding last month in Austin.
"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."
More Hispanics in the workforce can account for some of the increase in
deaths, said Peg Seminario, safety and health director of the AFL-CIO.
In 1998, Hispanics represented 10.4% of the U.S. labor force, according
to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2007 they accounted for 14%.
Lack of training, poor communication skills and exploitation of workers
also lead to accidents and deaths, Seminario said. Hispanic workers have
fallen off roofs, been crushed under heavy machinery and run over by trucks,
according to workers' rights advocates, such as the Austin-based Workers
Defense Project. Austin alone has reported four Hispanic deaths this year.
Last month, OSHA pledged to bolster the number of inspectors in Texas in
response to the growing number of construction-related deaths, more than
half of them Hispanic.
Workers without legal documentation to be in the U.S. are less inclined
to join a union, which helps protect workers, or protest when conditions
seem dangerous, said Raj Nayak of the California-based National Employment
"They're doing the most dangerous work for longer hours,"
Jose Omar Puerto, 19, from Honduras, was repairing a roof on an Austin
apartment building in 2007 when his aluminum ladder became entangled in
electrical wires. He was electrocuted and killed, his sister, Marta Puerto,
said. His company paid for the funeral and the body's return to Honduras,
she said. The family received no further compensation.
"It's an injustice how my brother died," Marta Puerto said.
"There are a lot of cases like this, not just my brother's. We
need better laws to protect Hispanics."
Some of the fatalities among Hispanics could have been avoided with proper
training, said Michael Cunningham of the Texas State Building and Construction
Trades Council, a labor consortium.
"No matter what country they're from, whether they're here
legally or illegally, someone should make sure they have the proper training," he said.
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