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May
2015
5

AFL-CIO’s Annual “Death on the Job” Report Highlights Risks for Latino Workers

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On May 1st, International Workers Day, the AFL-CIO released its annual Death on the Job Report detailing fatalities in the workplace.  The report estimates that the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 has now saved 510,000 American lives.  Yet, while workplace safety has greatly improved, far too many workers still face a serious risk of injury, death, or illness.

Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2013 figures, the report shows that for the third year in a row North Dakota is the most dangerous state for workers with a fatality rate of 14.9 per 100,000 workers.  The top 5 is rounded out by  Wyoming (9.5),  West Virginia (8.6), Alaska (7.9) and New Mexico (6.7).  

One troubling trend the report reveals is the disproportionate risks that Latinos face.  From the report:

Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of job fatalities. The fatality rate among Latino workers increased in 2013 to 3.9 per 100,000 workers, up from a rate of 3.7 per 100,000 in 2012. At the same time, the number and rate of fatalities for all other races declined or stayed the same. There were 817 Latino workers killed on the job in 2013, up from 748 deaths in 2012. Sixty-six percent of the fatalities (542 deaths) in 2013 were among workers born outside the United States. There was a sharp increase in Latino deaths among grounds maintenance workers. Specifically, deaths related to tree trimming and pruning doubled among Latino workers since 2012, and 87% of the landscaping deaths among Latino workers were immigrants.

Neidi Dominguez, Director of Worker Centers for the AFL-CIO, told reporters via conference call that many Latino workers simply do not understand the protections available to them, and that those who do are often afraid to report unsafe conditions for fear of retaliation.  Dominguez argued that more protections are needed for immigrant workers, saying: “If there are protections for them not just before they raise their claim but during their claim and after their claim, more workers will come forward and that will help prevent some of these deaths.”

The AFL-CIO suggests the following improvements must be made to make workplaces safer and healthier:

• Funding and staffing at both job safety agencies should be increased.
• Enhanced protections, mandatory standards and greater oversight are needed to protect workers from ergonomic hazards, infectious diseases, chemical exposures and workplace violence.
• The serious safety and health problems faced by Latino and immigrant workers must be given increased attention.
• The escalating fatalities and injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry demand intensive and comprehensive intervention.
• The widespread problem of injury underreporting must be addressed.
• The OSH Act’s whistleblower and anti-retaliation provisions are too weak to provide adequate protection to workers who try to exercise their legal rights and must be strengthened.
• The Occupational Safety and Health Act is now more than 40 years old and is out of date.Congress should pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to extend the law’s coverage to workers currently excluded, strengthen civil and criminal penalties for violations, enhance anti-discrimination protections, and strengthen the rights of workers, unions and victims.
• Improvements in the Mine Safety and Health Act are needed to give MSHA more authority to enhance enforcement against repeated violators and to shut down dangerous mines.

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