Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hispanics suffer highest US workplace death rates

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - Hispanic workers in the United States are killed at work at a 25 percent higher rate than other U.S. workers with many deaths coming in construction, federal health officials said on Thursday.

Hispanics disproportionately take dangerous jobs like construction. Some may hesitate to speak up about safety hazards and may accept risky tasks for fear of being fired, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The most common causes of death were falls at construction sites and roadway incidents including crashes or being hit by a car while working on a road crew, the CDC said. Deaths from workplace falls increased about 370 percent from 1992 to 2006.

The report tracked Hispanic workplace fatalities of U.S. citizens, legal immigrants or illegal immigrants.

Immigration has become a potent political issue in the United States where about 12 million illegal immigrants live, many from Mexico, Central America and South America.

In 2006, the death rate for Hispanics was 5 per 100,000 workers, compared with 4 per 100,000 for all workers, 4 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic whites and 3.7 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic blacks, the CDC said.

Hispanics are the nation's fastest-growing minority. There were 19.6 million Hispanic workers in the United States in 2006, 56 percent of them foreign born.

They have become an increasingly important source of labor in U.S. construction.

An analysis of construction deaths found that Hispanic workers had higher rates than non-Hispanics in the same occupations such as laborers or roofers, the CDC said.

Dr. Sherry Baron of the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said inadequate training and supervision of workers, often made worse by language barriers or literacy problems, were factors behind this trend.

From 1992 to 2006, 11,303 Hispanic workers -- 95 percent of them men -- died due to workplace injuries, accounting for about 13 percent of overall such deaths in the United States.

The CDC said 67 percent of Hispanics killed in job injuries were foreign born, almost three quarters from Mexico. It said the work-related injury death rate for foreign-born Hispanic workers is about 70 percent higher than U.S.-born Hispanics.

The highest job fatality rates for Hispanics were in South Carolina (22.8 per 100,000 Hispanic workers), Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee, the CDC said. (Editing by Alan Elsner and Maggie Fox)

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