Workplace Deaths Increase for Latinos and Blacks

PHOTO: Demonstrators hold photographs of individuals who died at work.

Latinos have the highest rate of occupational fatalities in the United States and it's been that way for 15 years, according to a recent report. Hispanics make up 15 percent of the labor market, but accounted for more than 20 percent of the fatalities, another report showed. The rate of deaths of Latino workers increased 3 percent in 2011 over the previous year.

Overall, more than 4,600 workers were killed on the job in 2011 down from nearly 4,700 fatalities in 2010. Most deaths occurred in construction, transportation and warehouse jobs, according to an analysis by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH).

Although the total number of workplace fatalities has steadily declined from a high of more than 6,600 deaths in 1994, Tom, O'Connor, executive director of National COSH, said those deaths could be avoided.

"Each worker killed is a tragic loss to the community of family, friends and co-workers – and the worst part is, these deaths were largely preventable," O'Connor said in a statement.

The number of workplace deaths among Latinos rose to 729 in 2011 from 707 in 2010. It was the first increase since 2006. About 500 of those deaths were of foreign-born workers, largely from Mexico.

Black workers saw a similar increase in fatal work injuries while white workers saw a 3 percent decline.

Deaths in construction dropped for the fifth consecutive year to 721 deaths. The number is down nearly 42 percent since 2006.

Warehouse and transportation deaths have increased to 733 deaths, overtaking construction.

Safety and regulatory enforcement

At an event in Los Angeles for Workers Memorial Day, worker's rights advocates highlighted cases where workers died because safety and regulatory guidelines were not followed.

"Some people say regulations kill jobs, but we know that they save jobs," Andrea Nicholls of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor told ABC/Univision. "We must all must work together to press for more inspectors, stronger regulation, tougher fines for employers and better protections for whistleblowers who suffer retaliation from employers."

Critics say that when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does find problems, consequences are minuscule.

In one case, 29-year-old Orestes Martinez died while helping install a two-ton, lead-lined door at a hospital in Houston. The door fell on him and crushed him to death.

OSHA fined Martinez's employer $10,000. But the penalty was reduced to $3,500 following an appeal.

Women and low-wage jobs

Women are more likely to work in low-wage jobs and are at a high risk for work-related injuries, illness and death, according to a report.

Hispanic women accounted for 11 percent of occupational fatalities from 2005-2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than half were foreign born.

The rate of fatalities for Hispanic men has declined 29 percent since 2006, however, it has remained the same for Hispanic women.

The proportion of low-wage jobs has increased in the economic recovery. Though 1 in 5 jobs lost during the recession were lower-wage, they now make up 3 out of 5 new jobs created in the recovery.

Immigration reform

Workers rights advocates called for comprehensive immigration reform that would include protections for workers and whistleblowers.

Immigration reform that allows currently undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows would reduce workers' vulnerability, improve labor conditions and save lives, according to Shirley Alvarado of COSH in Southern California.

"Immigrant workers face disproportionate workplace hazards and dangers. That's because they're over represented in the most dangerous industries," she said.

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