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Risks Continue to Increase for Latino Workers

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

Over the past few decades, Latinos have become an increasingly influential part of the U.S. economy and its workforce. Latinos now make up 16 percent of the labor force in the U.S. and are by far its fastest growing segment. This growth has been mirrored in construction, with Latino workers well-represented in LIUNA and across the industry.

Unfortunately, there’s more and more evidence that Latino workers are also at the greatest risk of being killed on the job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall fatality rate for all workers fell in 2013 (to 3.2 per 100,000, an all-time low), while the rate for Latinos actually rose 7 percent. This represents the highest fatality rate of all ethnicities in the U.S. It was a similar story in construction. Twenty-six percent of construction fatalities in 2012 were to Latinos even though they only made up 20 percent of the workforce. So if fatalities are down in general, why are deaths of Latino workers on the rise?

Many suggest the cause is that Latino workers are less likely to speak up about hazards on the job out of fear it will cost them their jobs. Some may even fear being deported if they are in the country illegally. Language barriers may also be a factor in some cases.

Another factor contributing to greater risk for Latino workers is the increasingly common practice of unscrupulous employers giving the most dangerous jobs to temporary workers, often providing them little to no training or safety equipment. Without this training, workers may not recognize unsafe situations until it’s too late. Such was the 2013 case of Adan Sotelo Preciado, who died after falling 20 feet through a patch of roofing insulation to the concrete floor below. During an investigation after his death, a coworker admitted that the employer gave workers no training after they were hired and did not provide them with safety harnesses.

“LIUNA and its signatory contractors recognize the importance of providing safety training and the necessary protective equipment to all our members,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “Members know they can speak up if they’re unsure about the safety of working conditions and signatory contractors know that when they put a focus on safety, everyone benefits.”

The LHSFNA has a number of hazard-specific publications to promote safety on the job as well as general safety publications such as Auditing Your Jobsite for Safety and the Laborers’ Guide to Competent Persons. To help inform employees about potential hazards on the job, the Fund also offers more than 75 Health Alerts in both English and Spanish. All of these publications can be ordered through our online Publications Catalogue. For more information about improving safety on your site, call the Occupational Safety and Health Division at 202-628-5465.

For more resources on improving safety for Latino workers in construction, check out this collection of resources created by the CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training. OSHA also has a Spanish version of their website which may be helpful.

[Nick Fox]

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