Monday, September 05, 2005

AFL-CIO: Immigrant Epidemic of Workplace Death

According to a new AFL-CIO report Immigrants at Risk: The Urgent Need for Improved Workplace Safety and Health Policies and Programs, immigrant workers are facing an epidemic of workplace death in this country. Overall workplace fatalities among foreign-born workers increased by 46 percent from 1992 to 2002 and fatalities among Hispanic workers increased by one-third over the same period, from 553 fatalities in 1992 to 841 fatalities in 2002. Meanwhile, fatalities were falling for the workplace as a whole over the same period.

(This report only covers data through 2002. As was just reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the situation has gotten worse. Fatal work injuries among Hispanic workers were up 11 percent in 2004 after declining in 2002 and 2003. 883 Hispanic workers were killed in the workplace in 2004.)

The report also found that although the share of foreign-born employment increased by 22 percent between 1996 and 2000, the share of fatal occupational injuries for this population increased by 43 percent.

Hispanic workers are employed doing the most dangerous jobs in the most dangerous industries and tend to work in the less-skilled and more dangerous occupations such as construction laborers, helpers and roofers.
Between 1996 and 2001, private construction, retail trade and transportation and public utilities (counted as one industry) were the three industries in which fatally injured foreign-born workers most frequently were employed. Nearly one in four fatally injured foreign-born workers was employed in the construction industry. Another one in three was employed either in retail trade or transportation and public utilities. Industries with the highest fatality rates for foreign-born workers include mining (30.4 per 100,000), construction (17.3 per 100,000), transportation and public utilities (15.2per 100,000) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (15.2 per 100,000).
Workplace homicide was the leading cause of fatal injury for foreign-born workers and falls were the second highest cause of death. Highway incidents, number one for native born workers, was the third leading cause of death for foreign born workers.

Even after their injured, immigrant workers have a hard time with Workers Compensation:
In a Department of Public Health Survey of 1,400 injured workers in Massachusetts, more than half of the foreign-born workers questioned had never heard of workers’ compensation, compared with 15 percent among U.S.-born workers.

While 97 percent of workers seen in a free clinic set up for garment workers in Oakland, Calif., were eligible for free health care under workers’ compensation, none sought the benefit. Fear of job loss and of being blacklisted in the industry was so strong that none was willing to apply for benefits to which they were entitled.
The report also discusses efforts being made to help immigrant workers. OSHA's Susan Harwood grant program, for example, give preference to applicants that target immigrant populations, but the Administration is proposing to eliminate the program in next year's budget. OSHA has also failed to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment such as gloves and boots, a regulations that would be of particular help to immigrant workers.

On the other hand, a number of unions, COSH groups and other organizations are providing information and training to immigrant workers.
Such work needs to continue and expand to ensure as many immigrant workers as possible have access to this vital information. Immigrant workers must have the same safety and health protections as native-born workers. The existing barriers need to be removed so immigrant workers are aware of their rights and are free to exercise them without fear of retaliation.