The Highs and Lows of the Hispanic Summit

Speaking at the first-ever Hispanic Safety and Health Summit, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw outlined actions taken by his agency that he believes have reduced the disproportionate number of Latino workers killed on the job in the United States.

At the same time, 25 labor and Hispanic immigrant organizations attacked the July 22 meeting in Orlando, Fla. as a "blatant election year play for Hispanic votes."

OSHA data reveal that language or cultural barriers are involved in approximately 25 percent of the fatalities investigated by the agency. Although total workplace fatalities decreased in 2000 and 2001, the number of Latinos killed on the job shot by 12 percent in 2000 and 10 percent in 2001.

But Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who also spoke at the summit, noted that the trend was reversed in 2002. "I am proud of the fact that for the first time in seven years workplace fatalities among Hispanic workers declined in 2002," said Chao.

In remarks he prepared to deliver to attendees at the event, Henshaw ticked off the outreach and voluntary efforts the agency has undertaken to try to protect Hispanic workers. Henshaw said OSHA has:

  • Established a Hispanic task force in August 2001 under the leadership of John Miles, OSHA's regional administrator in Dallas;
  • Created a Spanish page on the OSHA Web site;
  • Distributed nearly 85,000 publications in Spanish;
  • Reached out to employers and employees through public service announcements in Spanish;
  • Doubled the number of bilingual OSHA staff members since 2000, bringing the total up to 218, or approximately 10 percent of the agency's total staff;
  • Increased the number of Hispanic trainers in OSHA's education centers to more than 1,300 over the past 4 years. These trainers have used Spanish to teach nearly 17,000 Hispanic workers.

In their letter to OSHA protesting the Orlando meeting, members of a group calling itself the Coalition for Hispanic Worker Safety noted that the conference was organized with little input from major Hispanic advocacy organizations.

"This is clearly not a serious effort to address the epidemic of workplace injuries suffered by our community," said Jayesh Rathod, staff attorney of CASA of Maryland, in a written statement. "Planners chose not to invite groups like ours because they knew we would raise serious concerns about the administration's dismantling of workplace safety rules."

Other advocates criticized OSHA for not restoring cuts to community-based health and safety programs and for failing to include the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Orlando summit.

"OSHA has failed to take even the small step of clarifying that employers must pay for required personal protective equipment," asserted Jackie Nowell, director of occupational safety and health for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. "For the low-wage workers that we represent, many of whom are immigrants, the extra money taken out of their paychecks for necessary safety equipment is very significant."

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