ASSE & NIOSH Explore Overlapping Vulnerabilities Facing Young Hispanic Immigrants in the Construction Industry

NIOSHASSE and NIOSH released a joint report that concludes that Hispanic workers who are young and work for small construction firms likely face greater OSH challenges than almost any other employee segment or industry in the U.S. The report, Overlapping Vulnerabilities: The Occupational Safety and Health of Young Immigrant Workers in Small Construction Firms, examines various existing data sources to document overlapping vulnerabilities, and it focuses on the factors behind why Hispanic immigrants, small businesses with fewer than 20 employees and young workers under age 25 are at increased risk for injury and death when working in the construction industry.

“The safety community and the construction industry must take note of this report and work together to improve the safety conditions outlined in it,” said ASSE President Trish Ennis. “ASSE commits to partner with NIOSH and interested parties across the country to develop effective solutions that will allow Hispanic immigrants and small business owners to thrive in a safe work environment.”

Hispanics were the only ethnic group to see an increase in the number of workplace fatalities in 2013. Prior studies have shown that because of their work in dangerous occupations, Hispanic immigrant workers experienced a higher occupational mortality rate (5.9 per 100,000 full-time employees) than all other workers (4.0 per 100,000 full-time employees), according to statistics collected from 1992-2006.

“Improving the health and safety of vulnerable populations recognizes that occupational hazards are distributed differentially,” said NIOSH Director John Howard. “This collaborative effort provides a foundation that addresses the specific needs of small businesses, minority populations, and the many young workers who dedicate themselves to their work.”

In 2013, there were 817 fatal on-the-job injuries on construction sites—more than any other industry. While construction is inherently a high-risk industry, it is even more so for the Hispanic immigrants who account for 82% of the 2 million foreign-born immigrants working construction in the U.S. According to the report, many immigrants are unfamiliar with the risks they face on the job, are unaware of standard safety procedures, receive little or no job training, do not speak or comprehend English and may have work styles different from their coworkers and employers.

Historically, small businesses with 20 or fewer employees hire workers who are at a greater risk for occupational injury, including young workers, people who are less educated and immigrants. Typically, these small businesses, which account for 90% of all construction firms, do not have an OSH infrastructure to help them manage standards and injuries.

ASSE plans to work with community groups, national safety organizations, NIOSH and U.S. safety agencies, and Latin American consulates where these Hispanic immigrants originate to provide the tools this employee group and its employers need to better manage hazards in the construction industry. “The report is a starting point,” Ennis said. “ASSE looks forward to working with NIOSH and others to make recommendations that will improve safety and save lives in the construction industry.”

The report was announced prior to the Society’s America’s At-Risk Workers symposium held May 6 in Washington, DC, as part of NAOSH Week 2015. Be sure to check out the @PSJ_Cathy Twitter feed for sound bites from the event. For more information and resources related to this report, visit www.asse.org/workersatrisk.