In the last couple of years, there have been more worker injuries and fatalities in the Latino community in California. While the data clearly indicates this is happening and that speaks for itself, that is not the real issue. The heart of the matter is why this is taking place. If there is something about California specifically, or about the Latino population as opposed to other populations that is causing the injuries and fatalities, that “something” should be located and addressed, in order to protect workers from harm and save lives.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of Latino workers who are injured every year is higher than any other group, but even within that group, there are two distinct categories: Latino workers who are foreign-born, and Latino workers who are native-born. In 2003-2006, BLS data showed that Latino worker fatality rates exceeded the fatality rates of all other workers by a staggering 35%. Whether they are born in this country or have come here to work, they are clearly at a higher risk of harm.
Study into the issue indicates that there may be two logical reasons for this discrepancy. Those reasons are tied together only somewhat, and addressing one of the issues would not necessarily solve the problem. Instead, addressing both sides of this issue for native-born and foreign-born Latino workers will likely be the only way to help them find ways to stay healthy and safe as workers in California. The work injury numbers for Latino workers, and the work fatalities that this group experiences both need to be greatly reduced.
Latino workers, the information would suggest, are succumbing to work-related injuries and fatalities more than other groups because they (a) do work that is more dangerous, on average, than the work done by other groups and (b) they often have a limited grasp of the English language, which can hamper efforts to ensure that they understand proper safety measures. In some unfortunate cases, this is also an open invitation by employers to skimp on safety to reduce costs. The assumption is that the Latino workers will not understand that what they are doing is unsafe, so they won’t report it or otherwise do anything about it, like filing a claim if they are injured or a family member is killed.
A recent study conducted for the California Department of Industrial Relations indicates that the problems with Latino worker injury and death have not improved and, in fact, may be getting worse as time goes on. In 2012, for example, there were 238 non-Hispanic and 137 Hispanic worker fatalities in the state. That indicates that 37% of the fatalities were of Hispanic workers. In 2013, the percentage of Hispanic fatalities had risen to 49%, with 197 non-Hispanic and 188 Hispanic workers killed. Four of the last five years have shown higher rates of Hispanic worker deaths, with a generally upward trend.
While the data directly shows that Hispanic worker injuries and fatalities are on the rise, the focus should be on how to lower those numbers. If the problems alluded to previously are truly what are causing these fatalities and injuries, than these are issues that can be corrected, at least to some degree. Whether Hispanic people choose to take jobs that are dangerous in greater numbers than other ethnicities is not necessarily something that can be corrected, provided they are given a choice. However, if they have no other opportunities open to them, they may be forced to take these dangerous types of jobs just to keep food on the table.
Better opportunities would correct some of that, as would safety measures that are clearly understood, no matter whether the worker has a good grasp of English. Many people speak Spanish today, and could be employed by companies as translators to explain safety concerns and how to remain safe on the job. This would not only protect workers from injury but could potentially save their lives.