Too many Latino workers face disease, major injury and death while laboring in dangerous jobs with inadequate safeguards. In 2014, 804 Latino workers died on the job, with 64% of these fatalities being Latino workers born outside of the United States. Latino worker deaths recently have decreased even though more Latinos are working in the construction industry than ever before: Nearly 70% of new construction jobs between 2012 and 2015 were filled by Latino workers. The job fatality rate among Latino workers has declined by 38% since 2001, when the rate of Latino worker fatalities reached its highest (6.0 per 100,000 workers). But Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of death on the job, with a fatality rate that is 9% higher than for workers overall.
The construction industry is the most deadly industry for Latino and immigrant workers, with 29% of all Latino fatalities and 26% of all immigrant fatalities occurring in this sector. Transportation accounts for 9% of Latino job-related deaths, agriculture for 8% and landscaping services for 8%. The number of Latino worker deaths in oil and gas extraction has increased more than 180% in the past five years.
Of all serious injury and illness cases that are reported, 14% are from Latino workers. Latino and immigrant workers often work in occupations with high rates of injury and in work environments where injuries are severely underreported. For example, in 2015, an estimated 34% of meat and poultry workers were Latino, and the industry has extremely high rates of repetitive strain injuries, cuts and lacerations, falls due to wet working conditions and chemical exposures. Vulnerable workers, like Latino and immigrant workers, fear raising concerns on the job because of fear of retaliation by employers, like being assigned more dangerous work, getting fired or deported. Vulnerable workers often do not speak English, nor are they informed about their rights on the job.
This decline in Latino worker fatalities over the years did not happen by chance. Latino worker and advocacy communities demanded action from policymakers. Targeted programs informed Latino and immigrant workers that they have safety and health rights in the workplace, such as the right to demand protective controls on the job, to report unsafe working conditions and to refuse unsafe work. This increased attention also led to protective regulations and increased accessibility to training and materials in Spanish. But much more work remains to be done.
What can be done to protect Latino and immigrant working people on the job? We can:
- Focus on high hazard industries with high Latino and immigrant worker populations;
- Improve rights for all working people and strengthen collective bargaining laws;
- Advance immigrant rights so all working people have full workplace protection; and
- Strengthen whistleblower and anti-retaliation protections for reporting job injuries and hazards.
Read more about Latino and immigrant worker safety and health issues in the 2016 AFL-CIO's Death on the Job report.