Latinos make up majority of fatal falls at construction sites in NY

Latinos represent 74 percent of fatal workplace falls in New York but only 35 percent of all construction workers

A builder working on a new home in an area that was heavily damaged by fire during Superstorm Sandy last year, in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens in New York City.
2013 Getty Images

Latino and immigrant workers are at a disproportionate risk of dying from construction-site accidents in New York, according to a new report conducted by the Center for Popular Democracy.

The report, "Fatal Inequality: Workplace Safety Eludes Construction Workers of Color in New York State," is based on investigations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 2003 to 2011 that analyze fatalities from falls at construction sites.

According to the findings, 60 percent of the 136 fall-related fatalities in New York state were Latinos or immigrants. In New York City, the number was 74 percent. Queens and Brooklyn were the two most dangerous boroughs to work in during the years studied. In Queens 88 percent of those who died were Latinos or immigrants, and in Brooklyn 87 percent of those who fell were Latinos or immigrants.

Latinos comprise only about 35 percent of all construction workers in New York City.

"Latino workers are the most vulnerable workers in the nation, and we've been talking about this for a number of years," Hector Sanchez of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement told Al Jazeera. "This report is a reminder of what is happening and why Latino workers are the ones who suffer the most from deaths and injuries in the workplace. It's important to understand what the consequences of this are and why they are happening."

The vast majority, 86 percent, of the Latino or immigrant workers' deaths were at sites run by nonunion employers, where workers often are reluctant to report safety violations out of fear of retaliation from contractors. The report also says that Latinos are more likely to work at nonunion sites, which have more safety violations.

A New York state law requires contractors and construction company owners to provide all necessary equipment to keep workers on site safe or be held fully liable if lack of safety measures result in the injury or death of a worker. According to the report, construction and insurance companies are trying to have the law amended so that workplace safety would be the responsibility of the workers.

OSHA, which is tasked with inspecting work sites, has 113 inspectors in New York state. According to the report, if OSHA were to inspect every construction site in the state, it would take the workers 107 years to visit each site once. At 85 percent of sites where a worker fell and died, OSHA found there was a "serious, gravity 10" violation of workplace safety standards.

The Center for Popular Democracy is pushing for construction companies to do more to improve worker safety and has also called on OSHA to hire and train more inspectors and stiffen penalties for safety violations.  

Al Jazeera. Dexter Mullins and Roxana Saberi contributed to this report.

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