New report shows disproportionate risk of injury or death for Latino workers
A new federal report shows that Hispanic and Latino workers face a disproportionate rate of injury or death at work. What is being done to protect workers?
After the covid-19 pandemic left millions unemployed, workplace injuries and fatalities dropped to a record low.
However, in 2021, as workers returned to their jobs, many faced more dangerous environments leading to a nearly nine percent increase in the number of people injured or killed while on the job. The 2021 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) each December, shows that while the number of deaths did not reach the tragic levels seen in 2018 and 2019, the total did surpass that recorded in 2017.
Doug Parker, the Department of Labor’s Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, said that the report “serves as a call to action for OSHA, employers and other stakeholders to redouble our collective efforts to make our nation’s workplaces safer.”
Parker continued by calling attention to the fatality rates for Black and Latino workers, which were “disproportionately higher than their co-workers in 2021,” which he described as “deeply troubling.”
While the Hispanic and Latino population in the US represents around 18.7 percent of the public, workers in this demographic group made up 21.7 percent of workplace fatalities. The Department of Labor also reported that fatalities among Black workers “reached an all-time high in 2021.” Considering that unemployment increased at a greater rate among Black workers when the pandemic began, it is deeply distressing that as some of these workers returned to the labor force, the number of fatalities jumped 20.7 percent from 541 in 2020 to 653 in 2021. Of this total, the most common cause of death was a result of “injuries due to violence and other injuries by persons or animals,” which represented 23.7 percent of fatalities, almost double the average for all workers (14.5 percent).
Workplace Fatalities by Race and Ethnicity
|White||Black or African America||Hispanic or Latino||American Indian or Alaskan Native (non-Hispanic)||Asian (non-Hispanic)||Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (non-Hispanic)||Multiple races (non-Hispanic)||Other races or not reported (non-Hispanic)|
In response to these findings, Mr. Parker said his department stands “determined to enforce the law” and plans to continue its outreach “with employers, workers, labor unions, trade associations, and other stakeholders to ensure that every worker in the U.S. ends their workday safely.” The details of how this process will be carried out were not mentioned in the short press release.
What are the most dangerous sectors for Latino workers?
Workplace fatalities tend to be consolidated in a few employment sectors, showing the differences in risk workers face. The data also shows that some racial and ethnic groups tend to see higher rates of fatalities than others. The 2021 report shows that Latino (or Hispanic) workers have the highest fatal injury rate, which the BLS says “represents the number of fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.”
Fatal Injury Rate by Race and Ethnicty
|Fatal Injury Rate|
|Black or African American (non-Hispanic)||4.0|
|Latino or Hispanic||4.5|
Like other racial and ethnic groups, the most dangerous sectors for Latino workers tend to be fields that require manual labor, like construction, trade, transportation, mining, and agricultural production. The BLS also reported that last year “falls, slips, or trips” were the leading cause of death for Hispanic and Latino workers.
Black, Latino, and White workers were all disproportionately represented in the number of workplace fatalities compared to their average makeup within the general population. It should not go unmentioned that white workers are also over-represented in the report. Over the last five years, the number of fatalities for white workers has fallen by ten percent, while that for all most other racial and ethnic groups has increased.
Rates of workplace fatalities by race
|2020 Census Population (%)||2021 Fatality Rate (%)||Difference|
|African American or Black||12.10||12.48||-0.48|
|Hispanic and Latino||18.7||21.7||-3.07|
Immigrant workers face higher risks than those born in the US
When breaking down the data further, we find that foreign-born workers, face a much higher risk of death in the workplace than native-born workers. Overall, immigrants make up around sixteen percent of the US workforce but accounted for twenty-one percent of fatalities, highlighting the increased vulnerability immigrants face in the workplace.
More than a trend, the fact that many immigrants work risker jobs than native-born workers has been a feature of American life since its inception. The brutality of slavery left Black people with a much lower life expectancy during the founding of the country —an inequality that persists to this day.
During slavery and after, immigrants who came to the US often found jobs in sectors with fewer occupational regulations. US history is riddled with disasters faced by immigrant workers, like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed over a hundred immigrant women, mostly of Jewish and Italian descent. As the government has moved to make workplaces safer, immigrant groups still tend to enter lower-paid sectors that rely on manual labor, like construction, agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.
In 2021, foreign-born Asian and Latino workers faced the greatest risk. Particularly concerning is that of the 178 workplace fatalities among Asian workers, 150, or 84.2 percent, were not born in the United States. This figure represents the largest percentage of immigrant deaths compared to the total labor force across racial and ethnic groups. However, when looking at immigrants from Latin America, 727 workers were killed in 2021, representing the highest total and around two-thirds of deaths within this group.
Fatalities by immigration status
|Foreign-born Hispanic or Latino||727|
|Native-born Hispanic or Latino||403|
This is by no means an argument that workplace deaths should be precisely equal across all racial and ethnic groups or even a perfect reflection of the demographic makeup of the country.
The simple truth is that no person, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or income level, should die at work.
But as Assistant Secretary Parker mentioned, the 2021 report shows that as people returned to the workforce, the necessary precautions to protect them from serious injury and death were not in place. Last year, the country did not go a single week without a worker dying while on the job, and an examination into what is leading to these fatalities and what must be done to prevent these senseless deaths must be conducted.