The growing Latino workforce is meeting a need in the construction industry economy in the nation and Alabama, but with that growing workforce comes some serious problems.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that Latinos account for 18 percent of all workers in the nation, but they account for 21 percent of work-related injuries. Latinos are expected to account for 47 percent of construction jobs by 2010. OSHA pointed out that the increasing rate of employment and the exceptionally high rate of work-related injuries does not bode well for the future.
According to a 2001 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the rate of on-the-job deaths for all Latinos has been 20 percent higher than for whites or blacks. Of construction fatalities in 2001, more than a third involved Hispanic workers.
The Bureau also reported that from 1997 to 2002, total fatalities in the construction industry rose by slightly more than 1 percent, while the number of Latino fatalities increased by approximately 50 percent.
Mexicans make up more than two-thirds of the Latino population in the United States and Mexican-born workers are 80 percent more likely to die in job-related accidents than native-born workers.
OSHA has asked that companies take steps to better educate Spanish-speaking workers in safety methods. That included such ideas providing a safety orientation video and tests in Spanish, providing job-site signs in Spanish, including site-specific signage such as “Warning High Voltage,” “Do Not Enter,” “Safety Suggestion Box,” etc. Some companies are offering Spanish-only training classes. Safety coordinators stress that simply handing out written materials does not ensure comprehension because of literacy problems.
OSHA also is working to combat the problem. In the past two years, it has distributed more than 85,000 publications in Spanish. Since 2000, OSHA has doubled the number of bilingual staff. Latino coordinators have been appointed to each of the 10 regional offices. Also, OSHA now offers a Spanish Web site.
The Alabama AGC also is working to help solve this problem by forming a committee to set up job-site Spanish and English-as-a-second-language classes around the state.
Some safety experts also have suggested that contractors use discussion groups led by or assisted by bilinguals, that they use tactile training, not theory and that testing be hands-on or written in Spanish.
Experts said the problem may be more than just a language barrier. They believe there are cultural barriers including a “don’t rock the boat” mentality and a strong sense of fatalism and fear among Latinos, especially those working illegally in this country.
A study by the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program shows that 57 percent of Latinos said they had experienced work-related injuries or illnesses and of these, only 63 percent had reported them to their supervisors.
The Latinos participating in the study said they did not report the injury because:
• They did not think it was serious enough to report;
• They didn’t think it was work-related;
• They didn’t want to complain;
• They felt vulnerable and feared retaliation;
• They thought it was just part of the job.
The UCLA study also said Latinos are “resigned to thinking that this was the way things were for them in the United States and they would just have to ’make do.’”
Not one Latino interviewed said they though the employer had a legal responsibility to either provide PPE or training on how to work safely.