Latino workers die from on-the-job injury at higher rates than all others, with 33 percent of the deaths happening at construction sites, a government report noted June 5.

One of the main causes cited in the report is that they hold more high risk jobs than those in other groups. The largest number of construction industry deaths result from falls and another major cause of death among these workers is highway-related deaths, according to the report.

The study was done by health researchers in Massachusetts and New Jersey gathering information in those states and at the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. It was published in the June 5 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report which is issued weekly.

The study was based on information about 11,000 Latino workplace deaths in the United States between 1992-2006. The researchers looked at death certificates, police reports and workers’ compensation documents.

The study calculated an annual death rate of five per 100,000 Latino workers in 2006. The rate for those who were immigrants, however, was six per 100,000. far higher than the 3.5 for those born in the U.S. The rate for non-Latino white workers was 4. For African-Americans it was 3.7.

“The burden of risk is primarily on foreign-born workers,” said Scott Richardson, a Bureau of Labor Statistics staff member, in a June 5 telephone press conference on the report. He said that a review of the most recent deaths, from 2003-2006, found that two of every three Latino workers who died on the job were foreign-born. That’s up sharply from 1992, when immigrants accounted for half of Latino work-related deaths. In the last few years 70 percent of the immigrant workers killed were from Mexico.

From 2003-2006, the highest numbers of Latino work-related deaths were in California, with 773 deaths; Texas, with 687; and Florida, with 417.

The highest death rate for Latino workers, however, was in South Carolina, at about 23 per 100,000. There has been a recent influx of immigrant workers in that state.

The influx of immigrant workers into the country is driven both by U.S. employers looking for the cheapest possible labor and by horrific conditions created by multi-national corporations in their homelands. More than half the undocumented workers in the U.S. are from Mexico where corporate activity has undercut and destroyed the economy.

“Does anyone want to pay $400,000 for their $300,000 house?” asked Mike McNeil, a construction contractor who regularly hires undocumented workers for a tiny slice of what he says full-time U.S. workers would cost him. McNeil hires the immigrants to do the dangerous work of building home additions, garages and swimming pools in towns all over northwestern New Jersey. He said, “These people work hard, they’re honest and I can trust them to take good care of my tools. I even send them on jobs with cash. I can trust them with my money.”

Workers at sites like his are often the most vulnerable when it comes to life threatening injuries. Because they are undocumented they often don’t even report what they consider “routine” injuries.

Even at jobs not usually considered “dangerous,” Latino immigrant workers become more vulnerable to injury because of low pay and lack of benefits. For a documented worker or a U.S. citizen, falling on a wet or greasy floor or sustaining a cut from a slicing machine in a deli might involve filling out an incident report and getting free care in an emergency room. For an undocumented worker it might be an entirely different story.

Father Ricardo Hernandez of Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in Rockford, Ill. knows these different stories.

He says the immigrants will keep coming in spite of dangerous jobs in construction, meat packing plants, restaurants and retail businesses because they are lured by “employers who only want cheap labor and because things are so bad in Mexico that they have to do this to survive.”

He said there is an undocumented couple at his church who work at a restaurant in nearby Belvidere, Ill., for $3.50 an hour and no benefits of any type. The state minimum wage in Illinois is $6.50 an hour.

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