Hispanic Workers Face Higher Fatality Rates

June 6, 2008
Hispanic employees suffer higher workplace fatality rates than other workers and will remain vulnerable until employers, agencies and others take steps to reduce the risk, according to the June 6 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report revealed that 11,303 Hispanic workers died from work-related injuries from 1992-2006, representing 13 percent of all work-related deaths in the nation.

Approximately one-third of Hispanic worker deaths occurred in the construction industry. Highway incidents and falls to a lower level were the most common causes of on-the-job fatalities, with fall-related deaths increasing 370 percent between 1992 and 2006.

A Disproportionate Risk

Compared to the rates for all U.S. workers, the Hispanic worker population recorded higher annual fatality rates every year except 1996 during the 14-year time frame. In 2006, the fatality rate for Hispanic employees was 5.0 per 100,000 workers, while the rate for all workers was 4.0.

And while fatality rates in this population followed the overall downward trend over the years, Hispanic employees continued to suffer on-the-job fatal injuries in disproportionately higher numbers.

“Although work-related injury death rates declined generally among Hispanics in the United States from 1992 to 2006, disparities between Hispanics and all workers persisted, with Hispanics consistently experiencing higher rates,” the report read.

While some of the risk for Hispanic workers can be attributed to their likelihood of working in dangerous industries or jobs, this population also had higher fatality rates when compared to non-Hispanic workers in the same occupation, such as roofers or laborers.

The report also indicated that foreign-born Hispanics are at an even higher risk for workplace fatalities. “Most striking is the especially high rate for foreign-born Hispanic workers,” said Sherry Baron, Ph.D., of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health during a news teleconference. “Foreign-born Hispanic workers had a 70 percent higher rate of work-related injury death compared to native-born Hispanic workers.”

Reducing the Risk

The Hispanic population remains vulnerable because of a projected increase in employment numbers, an involvement in high-risk work, the opportunity for miscommunication caused by language barriers and other risks associated with culture and economic status, the report said.

According to the report, preventing workplace deaths among this population will require employers to take more responsibility for providing a safe workplace; safety and health agencies must ensure employers are complying with regulations; and researchers must develop culturally appropriate materials for workers who speak a different language.

“Preventing work-related injury deaths among Hispanic workers will require concerted efforts by employers, safety and health agencies, researchers, unions, community groups and the workers themselves,” Baron said. “These efforts should be aimed at ensuring safe work environments and providing safety education and training of Hispanic workers that is linguistically and culturally appropriate.”

The report drew on data analyzed by CDC, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and state agencies. Workers were classified as Hispanic if they are of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, of Central or South American descent or of other Spanish culture or origin.

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