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Fatalities Among Immigrant Workers: Who's At Fault? Part 2 of 2.

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A previous blog post discussed the higher rates of on-the-job deaths among immigrant workers. This post explores the specific instances of on-the-job fatalities among Latino workers in particular.

Latino Workers Have A Greater Risk Of Being Killed On The Job

A variety of factors result in higher rates of on-the-job accidents and fatalities for immigrant workers. A 2015 AFL-CIO report on job safety, titled Death on the Job, shows that Latino workers in particular - both documented and undocumented - are at greater risk of on-the-job fatalities. And the rate is increasing. Between 2012 and 2013, the rate (deaths per 100,000 workers) grew from 3.7 percent to 3.9 percent. Sixty-six percent of the 2013 fatalities were Latino workers born outside the U.S.

One industry that has seen a significant increase in the number of deaths among Latino workers is the grounds-keeping and landscaping industry. Deaths among workers performing tree-trimming and pruning doubled between 2012 and 2013. Although this employment sector saw a big increase in fatalities among immigrant workers, construction continues to be the most dangerous industry for Latino workers. In 2013, a staggering 241 Latino construction workers died on the job.

In contrast to the experience of Latino workers, job-related fatalities overall are down by 25 percent since 2006, according to a story in the Christian Science Monitor, continuing an almost two-decade trend. One reason for this is that there are fewer jobs today in the most dangerous industries - logging and forestry as well as fishing - compared to a decade ago.

The other reason for the decline in job-related fatalities, according to the article, is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Since 1972, this federal agency, although not a strong as it should be, has developed safety standards, fined violators and provided training for workers and employers. These things and more have had an impact on the safety of American workers.

Occupational Safety And Health Administration Could Do So Much More

It's important to realize that the improvement in workplace safety because of OSHA could be so much more. The agency is limited in the size of the fines it can impose, and many businesses view these small fines as simply a cost of doing business. The average OSHA fine for a violation that caused a worker death in 2014 was $5,050, according to the 2015 AFL-CIO report.

Moreover, the chances of a company being investigated and fined are not great. OSHA, like many other regulatory agencies, has limited resources available to investigate, and those resources are declining. As a result, companies can get away with safety violations if no one complains or there are no injuries or deaths - the things that usually trigger an investigation.

According to research conducted by the Workers' Justice Project and several state agencies and released in 2014, it would take OSHA 103 years to inspect every workplace in New York State. The report, titled It's No Accident, included recommendations that OSHA increase its number of interpreters and non-English speakers and target those industries where immigrants are most likely to work.

The Immigrant Worker Story In New York City And State

New York State has the fifth-lowest overall job fatality rate in the U.S. Moreover, it does not rank among the states with the highest rates of workplace fatalities among Latinos. That dubious honor goes to California, Texas and Florida. This is not surprising; these states have the highest percentages of Latino workers.

However, New York is close to the top of the list of states with high numbers of immigrant (as opposed to Latino) workplace deaths. According to the AFL-CIO report, New York State had 60 fatalities among foreign-born workers in 2013, the fourth-highest among of U.S. states. Latino workers made up a majority of those deaths.

The booming construction industry illustrates the situation well. In New York City in 2013, 41 percent of all construction workers were Latino. However, these workers accounted for 74 percent of all construction industry deaths. Why?

Unfortunately, it's pretty simple. Latino workers are more likely to be employed by smaller, non-union contractors, in part because such businesses are more likely to employ undocumented workers as day laborers. And until the disincentives to cut corners are eliminated and state and federal agencies like OSHA have the resources and power to truly punish negligent employers, this sad state of affairs will probably continue.

Sources:

http://www.thenation.com/blog/201657/immigrant-workers-are-being-deported-being-injured-job
http://www.dol.gov/osha/report/20150304-inequality.pdf
http://www.workplacefairness.org/sc/undocumentedworkers.php
http://www.aflcio.org/Issues/Job-Safety/Death-on-the-Job-Report
http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/01/pf/workplace-deaths/
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2015-178/pdfs/2015-178.pdf
http://workersjustice.org/2014/05/06/669/