Over 1,000 people gathered in Houston, Texas on April 14th and 15th for the National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety, organized by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The summit brought together stakeholders in order to address the alarming rate of workplace injuries and fatalities among Latino workers.
Advocates, labor leaders, educators, workers, employers, as well as staff from community-based service organizations, faith-based groups, and public agencies attended the two day event devoted to improving worker safety.
Latino workers have a higher rate of workplace deaths than any other group. According to John Howard of the National Institute of Occupational Safety (NIOSH), Latino fatalities exceeded the fatality rate for the category of all worker casualties in the U.S. by 35% from 2003 to 2006.
There are many possible reasons for this, including the fact that a high percentage of Latinos work in the most dangerous jobs (construction, agriculture, poultry processing). There is also a strong reluctance among immigrant Latino workers to report unsafe conditions for fear of retaliation or even deportation.
In the opening plenary, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis acknowledged that there is much work to be done in order to protect workers on the job. She then called for a moment of silence for the fallen mineworkers from West Virginia.
Secretary Solis went on to note, “These senseless deaths have to stop. It’s not just mineworkers. It’s hotel housekeepers, farmworkers, construction workers, and factory workers,” She declared, “We have an obligation to all workers to provide good jobs. A job is not a good job unless it is a safe job.”
The conference agenda was packed with diverse speakers from a wide range of expertise and ended with breakout groups meeting to work on specific agenda items. I had the opportunity to present a session on how AFOP’s Project HOPE provides health outreach and education to farmworkers, using a low literacy, bilingual format and building partnerships with growers/employers that allow access to workers.