14 April 2010
Houston, Texas

Remarks by
John Howard, M.D.
Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Gracias por su introducción tan amable. Buenas tardes, señoras y caballeros. Es un honor con ustedes esta mañana sobre el asunto muy importante de la seguridad y de la salud para Latinos en el trabajo.

The flow of immigrants into the United States is responsible for increasing the richness of the racial and ethnic diversity of the American workforce. More than this, immigration is responsible for maintaining a strong U.S. economy. The challenge for occupational safety and health is how we can promote a transcultural workplace safety and health approach to reducing fatal and non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses among Latino workers.

Latinos continue to be a fast-growing segment of the U.S. workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that Latinos will comprise 16 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2014, becoming the most populous minority worker group. For much of the past two decades, though, the rate of work-related fatalities for Latinos has exceeded the rate for all U.S. workers, at times dramatically so. During the period 2003-2006, for instance, the fatality rate for Latino workers exceeded the rate for all workers by nearly 35%. And in no industry is the fatality rate higher than it is in construction. In a 2009 NIOSH study, fatal injuries among Latino construction workers were more likely to be caused by a fall than their white, non-Latino counterparts. The rate of fatal falls for foreign-born Latino construction workers was 5.5 per 100,000 fulltime workers, which is significantly higher than the 4.1 rate for Latino workers who were born in the U.S.

Some possible reasons for the reported disparities in injury rates for Latino workers include the disproportionately high participation rate for Latinos in very hazardous jobs: barriers that our current monocultural safety and health training approach cannot overcome; and perverse incentives that create a reluctance to report unsafe conditions for fear of retaliation from employers, or even from the some parts of the government not directly concerned with worker safety and health.

It is likely, though, that as bad as the reported injury statistics are for Latinos, non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses are undercounted among Latino workers. These workers are reluctant to report injuries and illnesses for the same reasons that they are reluctant to report unsafe conditions. And some injury recording systems do not even identify the ethnicity of an injured person. NIOSH and OSHA, together with its state health and labor department partners are exploring innovative ways to enhance health records systems in order to surmount such hurdles.

NIOSH is also working closely with our diverse partners to improve occupational safety and health training for Spanish-speaking immigrant workers in the U.S. by promoting a transcultural approach. With partners on the U.S.--Mexico border, we developed a model for training promoters de salud, or grassroots health advisors, to provide basic occupational safety and health information in their communities. We are pilot-testing the training model and evaluating ways to expand it, scale it up nationally, and evaluate its effectiveness.

Latino workforce safety is a national, regional, state, and local safety issue. The 2000 Census told us that our transcultural challenges in occupational safety and health are not just limited to those states traditionally associated with large Latino populations—such as California, Texas, New York and Florida. The challenge of developing culturally-integrated approaches to workplace safety will impact numerous other states not traditionally known for large Latino populations—such as North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Nevada, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Minnesota and Nebraska. These ten states showed anywhere from a 150% to a 350% increase in their Latino populations between the 1990 Census and the 2000 Census. The 2010 Census will undoubtedly only confirm and expand on this growth pattern.

These workforce demographic changes make it imperative for us to fashion an approach to training that builds on a worker's cultural values and does not just ignore those values. And, transcultural safety and health requires us to deliver safety and health messages not only using print and electronic news media, but also inserting story lines in telenovelas, and in working in close partnership with faith-based institutions and other Latino community organizations.

Los trabajadores Latinos tienen el derecho a un lugar de trabajo seguro. Latino workers also have a right to know about hazards in their workplace, the right to be provided required personal protective equipment, and the right to receive required safety training in a language or in a manner they can use to protect themselves.

Finalmente, debemos estar concientes y tomar encuenta que la seguridad y salud del trabajador latino es algo muy importante para la seguridad y salud de todo obrero americano.

Muchas gracias por su atención y deseo a cada uno de ustedes un lugar de trabajo sano y seguro.

Thank you and I wish each of you a safe, healthy and secure workplace.