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Hispanic Workers Dying at Higher Rates Than Others

Language, literacy barriers cited, particularly in construction jobs, CDC reports

THURSDAY, June 5, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Hispanic workers face a greater risk of dying from work-related injuries, with one in three deaths occurring in the construction industry, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

Between 1992 and 2006, 11,303 Hispanic workers died from work-related injuries. This represents approximately 13 percent of all work-related deaths in the United States during that time, a higher rate than for white or black workers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Work-related fatalities are going down for the workforce in general, but the disparity between Hispanic and non-Hispanic is persistent and not going away," Dr. Sherry Baron, coordinator of the Occupational Health Disparities Program at the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said during a teleconference.

"In 2006, the rate was 25 percent higher in Hispanics compared to all workers," Baron said. "Most striking is the especially high rate for foreign-born Hispanic workers. Foreign-born Hispanic workers had a 70 percent higher rate of work-related injury deaths compared to native-born Hispanic workers," she said.

According to previous CDC research, Hispanic workers are at greater risk because of language and cultural barriers and inadequate training and supervision.

And while the immigration status of the workers in the new study couldn't be ascertained, it may also have played a role, Baron said. "As with all workers who are in a marginal economic situation, immigrant workers may be afraid to speak up about safety concerns because of fears of retaliation," she said.

Hispanics represent the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce. In 2006, approximately 19.6 million U.S. workers were Hispanic. Of these, 56 percent were foreign-born, according to a report in the June 6 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The average age of Hispanic workers who died from work-related injuries was 35, compared with 42 for other workers. Also, 95 percent of Hispanics who died were men.

Except for 1995, the annual rate of work-related deaths among Hispanic workers was greater than for all other U.S. workers. In 2006, deaths among Hispanic workers were 5.0 per 100,000, compared with 4.0 per 100,000 for white workers, and 3.7 per 100,000 for black workers, according to the report.

From 1992 to 1996, homicide was the most common cause of death among Hispanic workers. These were mainly deaths that occurred during workplace robberies, Baron said. Between 1997 and 2006, highway accidents were the most common cause of death. These included traffic fatalities and workers killed while during roadwork.

But from 2000 to 2006, falls were the most common cause of deaths among Hispanic workers. From 1992 to 2006, work-related homicides among Hispanics dropped by 37 percent. However, during the same time frame, deaths from falls increased approximately 370 percent.

Among Hispanic workers who died between 2003 and 2006, 67 percent were born outside the United States, with 70 percent coming from Mexico.

High-risk jobs, such as construction, were one of the main factors leading to higher death rates among Hispanic workers. From 2003 to 2006, most Hispanics who died from work-related injuries worked in construction (34 percent). Other jobs with high death rates for Hispanics included administrative and waste services (11 percent), agriculture/forestry/fishing/hunting (10 percent), and transportation/warehousing (10 percent), the report found.

The greatest number of deaths were in California (773), followed by Texas (687) and Florida (417). The highest rates of deaths among Hispanic workers were in South Carolina, with 22.8 deaths per 100,000; Oklahoma with 10.3 deaths per 100,000; Georgia with 9.6 deaths per 100,000; and Tennessee with 8.9 deaths per 100,000, according to the CDC.

To prevent work-related deaths among Hispanics, employers need to provide a safer working environment, and government safety and health agencies need to provide Hispanic workers with safety information and to ensure that worksites comply with existing safety regulations, Baron said.

The CDC also thinks there is a need to develop better and "culturally appropriate" materials to overcome language barriers and varying levels of literacy, Baron said.

More information

For more on work-related deaths, visit the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

SOURCES: June 5, 2008, teleconference with Sherry Baron, M.D., coordinator, Occupational Health Disparities Program, U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; June 6, 2008, CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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