Protecting workers on jobsites should be the main concern of management. However, according to recent studies, there seems to be to be a big gap in protecting construction workers in the Latino community. Latinos are dying in larger numbers, even as the industry grows safer for everyone else. Since 2010, the fatality rate among Latino construction workers increased by almost 20%. However, for non-Latinos, the death rate dropped by more than 5%.
Let’s take a closer look at these disturbing numbers. Bureau of Labor Statistics found between 2010 and 2013, the number of deaths involving Latino construction workers increased from 181 to 231. In this same period, deaths for non-Latino construction workers fell slightly from 593 to 565.
So, what could be causing this discrepancy? Researchers say Latinos tend to work in low-wage jobs and are often placed in extremely tough physical conditions. Safety risks come with the territory. The reason goes further than just the income gap between Latinos and non-Latinos. Language barriers, economic disadvantages and lack of training are common problems facing low-wage Latino workers, especially in minimally regulated jobs like farm work and construction.
Those risks were among the factors that pushed Ricardo Gonzalez to his death in 2012: he plunged fifteen feet while working on a Queens building site. Despite five major safety citations, the employer’s penalty was calculated at less than $10,500, whittled down through an “informal settlement”—perhaps just a fraction of the value of the project that cost him his life.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration Chief David Michaels says, “There’s a clear correlation between low wage jobs and unsafe jobs…. Workers in low wage jobs are at much greater risk of conditions that will make it impossible for them to live in a healthy way, to earn money for their family, to build middle class lives.”
A report on worker deaths in New York found in 2012, “Immigrant workers died disproportionately in construction.” The study found smaller construction firms tend to hire Latino workers and are more likely to be cited for safety violations, when compared to larger firms that construct major high-rises and public projects.