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NIOSH: Young, Migrant Hispanic Construction Workers at High Risk of Injury

No one is immune from on-the-job injury. It occurs in virtually every type of workplace and to a wide range of workers. 

Still, we know there are certain risk factors that increase the chances of it. For example, we know the construction industry has one of the highest rates of occupational injury compared to other types of jobs. We also know young workers are often injured more often than their more experienced counterparts. So too are Hispanic workers, particularly migrant workers who may not be able to understand or speak English fluently, and are often relegated to dangerous, labor-intensive posts with inadequate supervision.

When all three of these risk factors are combined, the risk shoots up exponentially.

That’s according to a new report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), the American Society of Safety Engineers and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers acknowledged the fact not all workers have the same risk of injury – even if they are in the same industry or even carrying out the same job. Factors such as class, race and gender do play a role in the type of safety precautions that are typically followed. The agencies coined the term “occupational health disparities” to describe increased rates of work illness or injury among vulnerable populations. While these groups are typically described by a single characteristic (i.e., race, class, employment, income, age, gender, etc.), those with overlapping vulnerabilities are in fact at higher risk.

Here, young workers are defined as those aged younger than 25.

Another risk factor for many of these younger minority immigrant construction workers is the size of the firm for which they work. The majority of construction companies have 20 or fewer employees, which limits the resources available to properly train or supervise. They also tend to pay less than larger corporate outfits, and seek out untrained (i.e., cheaper) labor.

Outcomes for these workers have been tragic.

For example, Hispanic workers in general account for 20 percent of the construction industry workforce, and 75 percent of those workers are immigrants. From 1992 to 2006, the number of non-deadly injuries or illnesses among these workers almost doubled from nearly 18,000 to 34,000.

The occupations that had the highest death rates for these workers included:

  • Ironworkers
  • Roofers
  • Laborers

Factor in youth and inexperience, and the danger becomes even more apparent. While there are a number of benefits to putting our youth to work, it can also be quite dangerous. Federal law places restrictions on the kinds of construction work young people under 18 can do, but we do know the construction industry accounted for nearly 9 percent of all injuries to this cohort of workers between 2004 and 2007.

Companies tend to cut corners with these workers because business owners don’t worry about reprisal. These firms are counting on the young worker’s inexperience, an immigrant’s language barrier and fear of deportation and a minority worker’s power disparity to shield them from accountability for failing to ensure the safety of all workers.

The report outlined several scenarios in which this group of workers suffered fatal consequences because they were engaged in work for which they weren’t trained or properly supervised or adequately protected.

Our experienced Hollywood injury lawyers know these workers and their families have a number of options when it comes to compensation. There is of course workers’ compensation, though that assumes the worker is indeed an “employee” and the company is sizable enough to be required to carry workers’ compensation coverage.

However, there may also be potential for a third-party lawsuit depending on the type of accident, where it occurred and how it occurred.

Injured workers or surviving family members should contact an experienced legal team as soon as possible to learn more about their rights.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Overlapping Vulnerabilities: The Occupational Health and Safety of Young Immigrant Workers in Small Construction Firms, May 2015, ASSE & NIOSH & CDC

More Blog Entries:

$64.5 Million Verdict for Man Injured in Florida Construction Accident, April 29, 2015, Hollywood Injury Lawyer Blog


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