The changing (Hispanic) face of dying workers

On the eve of Workers Memorial Day, let's take a moment to recognize the steadily rising number of Hispanics dying on the job in the US. OSHA has recruited retired soccer star Giovanni Savarese and WWE wrestler Rey Mysterio (shown here) to help raise awareness of Hispanic vulnerability.

Close to 1,000 Hispanic workers lost their lives on the job in the United States in 2005 (923 to be exact - a whopping 73 percent increase in 13 years!)

In the last decade, the fatality rate for Hispanic workers has been higher than the rate for the overall population of workers. In 2005, the rate was 4.9 deaths per 100,000 workers - 23 percent higher than the overall fatal injury rate!

Not to mention that very often injuries among Hispanic workers are being underreported for a variety of reasons.

Construction takes its toll on Hispanic workers

Most Hispanic workers arrive in the US without having finished high school and often have trouble reading and writing Spanish well, let alone English. They are often forced to take any job they can find, which leads to work in more dangerous professions such as construction, agriculture and transportation.

The rate of deaths amongst construction workers, for example is 22.7 per 100,000 workers. That's a big hit for Hispanic workers, since they make up a full quarter of all construction workers (a total of 2.9 million workers last year), according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Hispanic workers also need to be better educated on safety and their rights in the workplace - the same right to report problems and refuse dangerous worker, etc. that every worker has.

Fortunately, some efforts underway to assist the plight of Hispanic workers. For example, last week an alliance in Newton, New Jersey was launched between OSHA, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and El Refugio, a local outreach center for Hispanic families. And the U.S. Department of Labor has hired 300 bilingual (Spanish/English) inspectors since 2001 to help Hispanic workers demand safer working conditions.

 The legal system is also beginning to recognize the growing concern of unsafe Hispanic workers; This month, a Staten Island construction firm was indicted for the accidental death of a Mexican immigrant construction worker when a trench caved in on him.

So, to honor 2007 Workers Memorial Day, we give a shout-out to the Hispanic community.... La seguridad en el trabajo concierne a todos! [Workplace safety is everyone's business.]

Interesting sidenote about this annual event

Workers Memorial Day - known as "the day to remember the dead and fight for the living" - actually started in Canada in 1984 as the National Day of Mourning. It's since spread around the world, to the US in 1989 and the UK in '92 (in both cases, via large unions there.)

 However, the day of remembrance is only formally recognized (i.e. by the federal government) in the case of 12 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Spain and Taiwan.

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