Study: Higher workplace injury rates for blacks, Latino immigrants

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A new national study has found Latino immigrants and African-Americans are more likely to work in jobs with a greater risk of injury and as a result are much more likely to have work-related disabilities.

The reasons for those disparities are harder to identify, said Seth Seabury, director of USC's Keck-Schaeffer Initiative for Population Health and lead author of the study. "Whether it's discriminatory hiring practices by employers [or] lack of other opportunities, there are a number of different factors. It speaks towards some systematic inequities in the labor market," he said.

The study, by researchers at USC and Boston University, was published in the February edition of Health Affairs.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Cal-OSHA, doesn’t track on-the-job injuries by race. However, it did issue a report in 2015 that found Latinos had a higher rate of workplace fatalities. 

California labor organizations said the study matched what they hear from workers around the state. "Certainly minority workers, immigrants, and African-American workers are in more dangerous workplaces and the jobs they do tend to be more dangerous," said Steve Smith, communications director for the California Labor Federation. 

There is a need for better training and education, improved safety standards and better enforcement of workplace safety regulations in the state, he said.

Nationally, roofing has one of the highest fatality rates of any occupation. Cliff Smith, business manager for the Roofers and Waterproofers Union Local 36 in Los Angeles, said his union is about 80 percent Latino and 10 percent African-American.

Roofers get hurt so often that minor injuries often go unreported, he said. "It's pretty much a regular occurrence that there's injuries and unfortunately occasionally even deaths," said Smith, who added that construction work is often done by "the most disenfranchised sectors of the community." 

The study was unable to tell whether workers in the same job were being assigned more dangerous tasks based on race or ethnicity. The authors suggested "policymakers and regulators may need to review whether employers are systematically assigning people of different races and ethnicities different jobs or job tasks according to their risk."