Hispanic Fatalities on the job: the Tip of the Iceberg

March 7th, 2005 by

An article by Liz Mineo in the Metro West Daily News highlights the unacceptably high rate of fatalities among Hispanic workers. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s National Census of Occupational Injuries, of the 5,559 fatal work injuries in the nation in 2003, 14 percent were Hispanics or Latinos. Blacks accounted for 10 percent. Asians were 1 percent. Whites represented 72 percent. For pure numbers, additional information and details can be found at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website. For a more impassioned take on the current crisis in workplace safety, visit Jordan Barab’s valuable website, Confined Space.
When seeking causes for the high rate of fatalities among Hispanic workers, we can isolate specific problems: marginal job conditions with a minimal safety focus, language and education issues and employer indifference. As immigrant laborers, many Hispanic workers are compelled to accept jobs and working conditions that others can walk away from.
Not Just Fatalities
The Metro West article quotes Francyslene Miranda, safety and health coordinator at the Allston (MA) Brazilian Immigrant Center, who tries to secure workers compensation benefits for injured workers.
Last year, Miranda dealt with more than 100 cases. Few of these workers have received any help at all from their employers. Employers rarely report claims to their insurance carrier (assuming of course that they even carry the mandated insurance — see our related blogs). To keep the injured workers silent, many of these employers threaten to turn the workers over to immigration authorities. As a result, undocumented workers are exposed to the most ruthless forms of exploitation.
“When they work, they pay them under the table, but when they get injured, they (say) they don’t know them,” said Miranda. “Many times, workers are afraid of retaliation and they don’t report their employers. They don’t know that even if they’re undocumented they still have rights.”
Miranda’s work underlines a significant issue. The data on work injuries involving immigrant workers is simply not accurate. Most injuries go unreported — because workers are afraid of retaliation and because they are not aware of their rights under workers compensation laws. There are those who would have us believe that injury rates have been declining, along with workplace fatality rates. But in the secretive world of immigrant labor, in the hard-scrabble lives of many Hispanic immigrants, the dangers have never been greater, even as the voices of protest have rarely been more muted.