- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

Job-related deaths among Hispanics are increasing while death rates among white and black workers are dropping, according to a new government report.
The statistics bear witness to the fact the growing Hispanic population is filling the kind of low-paying, high-risk jobs that most often lead to death.
The report could have used 22-year-old Jose Ponce as a case study.
In February, he was hanging drywall at the Marriott hotel construction site on Baltimore's Inner Harbor. His brother was being raised in a basket to an upper floor when his hand snagged in piping he carried with him.
As his brother screamed, Jose Ponce hurriedly climbed the cross bars on the lifting equipment to the basket. Unable to free his brother, he rushed down the cross bars to summon help.
"It looked like he missed a step," said friend and co-worker Israel Marroquin. "He went straight down on his head. The hard hat helped a little but not much. He didn't die right away. He died on Monday, twelve o'clock."
The Bolivian native left two children. "We took up a collection at the union," Mr. Marroquin said.
Hispanics died from job injuries in 2000 at a rate 23 percent higher than the average for all ethnic groups, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Tuesday.
Construction work takes the highest toll, accounting for 24 percent of Hispanic workers' deaths. Meatpacking and migrant farm work also contribute.
"Hispanics are disproportionately represented in higher-hazard industries, such as construction and agriculture," said Scott Richardson, the BLS program manager who oversaw the job death-rate report.
The report comes at a time the Bush administration is considering relaxing immigration laws for about 3 million illegal Mexican workers in the United States. The number of Hispanics in the American work force rose 6 percent last year.
The AFL-CIO and other union groups see Hispanic immigrants as both a way to increase the numbers of their dwindling ranks and to ensure job safety and other protections for the immigrant workers.
Next week, the labor federation plans rallies in Washington and nationwide to support immigrant workers' rights.
"The AFL-CIO calls upon the secretary of labor to conduct a full review of this disturbing increase in workplace fatalities among Hispanic workers," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a statement Tuesday.
The BLS report, based on 2,000 figures, found the fatality rate for Hispanic workers to be 5.6 per 100,000, compared with 4.2 for white workers and 3.8 for black workers.
Construction laborers industrywide died at a rate eight times higher than average for all jobs. The death rate for roofers is seven times the average.
Among construction workers, falls and collapsing trenches represent some of the greatest death threats.
The BLS reported that the number of Hispanic workers killed on the job last year rose to 815 from 725 a year earlier. The death rate increased 24 percent for Hispanic construction workers.
Among all workers nationwide, 5,915 fatal work injuries were reported, the lowest rate since the fatality census began in 1992. In 1999, 6,053 job fatalities were reported.
"Our department needs to do a better job of reaching out more to Hispanic workers and employers," Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.
Mr. Marroquin said he believes economic need contributes to the high death toll among Hispanics.
"The thing is, sometimes we Spanish guys, we rush too much," said the 37-year-old Guatemala native. "We try to please the bosses, you know what I mean. We're thinking, if the bosses are happy with us, we're always going to have a job. Sometimes we fear to lose our jobs so we rush and that causes bad accidents."
Brian Christopher, director of the Alice Hamilton Occupational Health Center in Silver Spring, said some employers who know the job insecurity felt by many Hispanics recruit them for dangerous jobs.
"They will target immigrant workers because of their lack of knowledge and the economic need they have," Mr. Christopher said. "They need the job and they don't have other options. They often don't speak the language."
Among its job safety advocacy and training efforts, the Alice Hamilton Occupational Health Center operates the Proyecto Trabajo Seguro, or Safe Work Project. The nonprofit organization's personnel train Spanish-speaking workers how to protect themselves from falls and other job hazards.
"What we find is that new immigrants coming from Central America and other countries are used to work that has a high risk," Mr. Christopher said. "They come to this country and they're not aware that laws are in place to make workplaces safer."
Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, believes many of the safety problems result from illegal aliens.
"I do think that there are a significant number of them who are here working illegally and are being exploited by their employers," he said. "That exploitation often takes the form of more dangerous labor."
Mr. Tancredo said a guest-worker program being considered in Congress could reduce the safety problems.
"A guest-worker program is in the works that would include provisions about job safety and would have the same kinds of job protections as for any other group," Mr. Tancredo said.
The program would give foreign workers visas to hold specific jobs for limited periods of time. They would receive part of their salary only after they returned to their home countries, which is intended as a disincentive to illegal immigration.
Some Hispanic workers admit occasional resentment about the risks they assume.
Jose Gonzalez, a Falls Church resident, still is recovering from recent job accidents.
In April, a loose crane cable hit his right hand while he worked on a water treatment plant in Arlington. The cable tore into his flesh and ripped off a fingernail.
After a short recovery, Mr. Gonzalez returned to work, only to be severely burned on his left arm by a welding torch in May.
Now he is unable to work, trying to live on workers' compensation, sending part of his money to his wife and four children in El Salvador and at age 28 uncertain whether his injuries are permanent.
He is "not sure" whether he will be able to return to construction work.
"About 85 or 90 percent of the construction workers are Hispanic," he said. "The others are supervisors. It's the Hispanics who take the hits."

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