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Report: Young, Immigrant Construction Workers at Small Firms at High Injury Risk

Workplace injury can happen almost anywhere. From fast food restaurants to corporate headquarters, the potential is always there. However, certain industries and jobs pose a greater vulnerability to work-related injury.
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The American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health recently released a report identifying a group of workers with multiple, overlapping vulnerabilities. These are employees who:

  • Work in construction
  • Are young
  • Are immigrants
  • Are Hispanic (minority)
  • Work for smaller companies

Each of these characteristics poses a higher risk of injury. However, workers who possess these traits are more likely to get hurt or sickened and more likely to have poor health outcomes as a result.

Safety experts refer to differences between the work injury risk of one employee and another – even between those in the same industry or jobs – as “occupational health disparities.”

Tthe report broke the occupational health disparities into categories of social dynamics (race, gender, class, etc.), economic trends (a growing demand for temporary work) and organizational factors (business size).

The majority of construction companies are smaller, with fewer than 20 workers. Many of those are increasingly looking to for cheap, temporary labor. Those most likely available for these jobs are young, with little experience, and are often Hispanic immigrants who speak little English. These workers are often not properly trained to prevent or even recognize potential safety hazards. Even if they do, they may fear immigration reprisal or loss of a job if they speak up.

The goal of the report was to identify these vulnerable populations of workers, determine the size of these groups, explore how these vulnerabilities might increase risk of on-the-job injury, and design effective interventions to reduce the occupational health disparities.

In 2013, Hispanic immigrants accounted for one-fifth of the construction force, or about 1.8 million workers. In the U.S., 75 percent of all Hispanics working in construction are immigrants. That’s a marked increase from just 20 years ago, and this has been associated with an increase in occupational injuries.

In fact, the number of non-fatal work injuries and illnesses among Hispanic construction workers doubled from 17,715 to 34,000, between 1992 and 2000. Hispanic construction workers who had the highest rates of workplace fatalities were iron workers, laborers and roofers.

To understand more, researchers explored a number of factors. First, there are language differences. If safety risks are not effectively communicated to workers in their native language, they are going to be more likely to get hurt. Secondly, many companies skimp on safety education and prevention when it comes to low-wage, temporary workers. Finally, there were cultural differences. The authors cited a number of previous studies indicating Hispanic culture puts a strong emphasis on hard work and the importance of an employer believing his or her workers are dedicated. This in turn is associated with more risk-taking by employees, who sometimes work too fast or are more willing to ignore potential hazards.

Our experienced work injury lawyers want these workers to understand their well-being and their lives are more important than any job. We are committed to working for them to obtain the compensation they deserve following a work-related illness or injury.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.

Additional Resources:
Overlapping Vulnerabilities: The Occupational Health and Safety of Young Immigrant Workers in Small Construction Firms, June 2015, ASSE.org
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