Injuries and Illness

Hispanic and Latino Workers at Risk; Can You Protect Them?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) convened a National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety in April 2010. The Agency has reached out to Hispanic and Latino workers since that time, attempting to reduce their high rates of work-related injuries and fatalities, but there is little to show for its efforts. The preliminary results of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary for 2013, released in September, show that fatal work injuries among Hispanic and Latino workers increased by 7% over 2012 figures—the only ethnic groups to show such an increase.

Why are these workers at higher risk than other groups—and more importantly, what can you as an employer do to reduce the risks in your workforce?

Risk factors

OSHA has identified three key risk factors that contribute to the high rate of injuries and deaths among Hispanic and Latino workers.

  • They work in more dangerous jobs than other groups.
  • They are unaware of their right to a safe and healthful workplace.
  • They are insufficiently trained in the hazards of their jobs.

Additional obstacles identified as impacting safety in this group include cultural factors— they sometimes lack a cultural precedent for safety—and fear of retaliation if they speak up about workplace conditions. All of these factors can be addressed in your workplace, if you recognize and deal with them directly.

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The Dangerous Trades

The first factor identified by OSHA is that Hispanic and Latino workers tend to labor in more dangerous jobs than other groups. Hispanic and Latino workers are disproportionately represented in the higher-risk occupations of:

  • Farming, forestry, and fishing;
  • Construction and extraction;
  • Transportation and material moving;
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance;
  • Protective services; and
  • Installation, maintenance, and repair.

Their presence in these jobs puts these workers at higher risk of injury, including fatal injury, than other groups. That risk is exacerbated by the other factors mentioned above.

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Worker Rights

Foreign-born Hispanic and Latino workers in particular tend to be unaware of their right, under U.S. occupational safety and health laws, to a safe and healthful workplace. This can be a bad thing even for conscientious employers because it contributes to a worker’s reticence to speak up when he finds himself in a hazardous situation. The combination of a lack of awareness and a fear of retaliation—which workers may bring with them from a previous employer or from the experiences of friends, even if it does not exist in your workplace—can lead them to take unacceptable risks on the job, without ever saying a word.

In order to overcome this tendency, you may have to make a deliberate effort both to inform workers of your intent to provide a safe and healthful workplace and to encourage them to speak up when they see a hazard.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how language proficiency impacts safety in this group of workers and some strategies for dealing with that issue.

1 thought on “Hispanic and Latino Workers at Risk; Can You Protect Them?”

  1. How about addressing the possible language barrier or the fact they may be illegal and that is the reason they do not speak up.

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