Politics & Government

Hispanics suffer more on-the-job deaths than other groups

WASHINGTON — More Hispanics die on the job than other U.S. workers, and the rate is highest among the foreign-born, according to a federal study released Thursday.

Construction industry work accounted for a third of the Hispanic fatalities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported after reviewing more than 11,000 Hispanic work-related deaths between 1992 and 2006. About 95 percent were men.

According to Dr. Sherry Baron, who studies health disparities for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the figures aren't surprising.

"Hispanics are working in riskier jobs where they have inadequate training and supervision, and this is exacerbated by the language barrier and low literacy levels, especially for foreign-born Hispanics," she said.

From 2003 through 2006, the states that had the most Hispanics had the most deaths on the job, the CDC found: 773 in California, 687 in Texas and 417 in Florida.

The rate for California came to 3.7 per 100,000 Hispanic workers; for Texas, 4.8 and Florida, 6.3.

The fatality rate was far higher in four states with small and recently arrived Latino populations. South Carolina was deadliest — 23 per 100,000 Hispanic workers over the three years, followed by Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee whose rates were about 10 per 100,000.

"States like South Carolina don't have a long history of Hispanic population, and the recent migration might be targeting jobs at higher-risk industries like construction," Baron said.

Overall, the study found that the rate of U.S. work-related deaths had declined since 1992, even among Hispanics, who are the fastest-growing ethnic segment of the U.S. workforce.

Researchers noted, however, that Hispanics have had the highest rate since 1992. In 2006, it came to 990 deaths, their highest toll ever.

In that year, the death rate for Hispanic workers was 5 per 100,000, compared with rates of 4 for white workers and 3.7 for black workers, the CDC found.

For foreign-born Latinos, the death rate was about 70 percent higher than for native-born Hispanics.

Catherine Singley, of the National Council La Raza, a non-profit that advocates for Latino issues, said her group was looking into Hispanic worker fatalities and injuries, too. "Our preliminary findings show that there is a lot of exploitation in the workplace, for legal and illegal immigrants alike," she said.

"There is a fear among workers to report safety incidents and injuries, because they are in an economic situation that puts a lot of pressure on them. They fear that if they complain, they will loose their jobs," Singley added.

Among Hispanics in construction work, falls were the leading killer, Baron reported.

Eleven percent of Hispanic deaths on the job were in waste and administrative services, the analysis found. Ten percent were in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.

Singley said non-fatal injuries among Hispanic workers were also of concern to her group. They tend to be underreported, she said, especially when illegal immigrants are hurt.