Recently, “Breaking Down Borders: Speaking Up For Those without a Voice” discusses the challenges immigrant workers face in accessing all of their legal rights if they are injured on the job. Unfortunately, a lack of rightful remedies is not the only challenge facing immigrant workers, especially of Hispanic origin. Hispanic workers face a disproportionately high mortality rate and more frequent injuries from accidents on the job.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports data to support that the fatality rate for Hispanic employees was 5.0 per 100,000 workers, while the rate for all workers was 4.0 between 1996 and 2006. According to Sherry Baron of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Foreign-born Hispanic workers had a 70 percent higher rate of work-related injury death compared to native-born Hispanic workers.”
These startling statistics present the question of why Hispanic workers, particularly those who are foreign-born are more frequently victims of unsafe working conditions. Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ( NIOSH ), and OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. addressed a meeting of the American Society of Safety Engineers’ ( ASSE ) Safety Professionals and the Latino Workforce (SPALW) group on June 10 in Las Vegas on the growing number of Hispanic worker injuries. Members of these groups proposed several reasons for the flux of injuries, including difficulties in communication because of language and misinterpretation of directions and intent.
In order to improve the deficit of more frequent injuries to Hispanic workers, employers need to take into account special necessities of the non-English speaking workers. Employers should provide handbooks and other safety guidelines in multiple languages, and supervisors who speak different languages to make sure the workers understand any dangerous activities in which they are participating.
These workers are entitled to understand how to be safe in the workplace. They are entitled to know how to avoid on-the-job injuries. Employers stand to benefit by providing a safe workplace; fostering a positive work environment keeps people on the job, avoiding injury, and thereby promoting productivity. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.