New York City Latino construction workers at elevated risk of harm

The numbers reflect that disproportionate numbers of Hispanic construction workers are being injured and killed on worksites.

In New York and across the country, study after study shows that Latino construction workers are being injured and dying on the job at higher numbers and rates than are people of other ethnic backgrounds. While Latino or Hispanic people are 15 percent of the U.S. work force, they make up almost one-quarter of all construction workers nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS.

The Center for Popular Democracy or CPD, a self-described "pro-worker, pro-immigrant, racial and economic justice" advocacy organization, studied historical data (2003 - 2011) from federal government investigations of fatal worker falls from heights on construction worksites nationally. CPD concluded that Latino and immigrant construction workers are "disproportionately killed in fall accidents."

The CPD review of U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, data prompted some disturbing conclusions for New Yorkers:

  • Statewide, 60 percent of construction workers who died in falls from elevated worksites were Latino or immigrant, which is higher proportionately than their numbers in the industry would suggest.
  • Of the workers statewide who died in these falls, 86 percent worked for nonunion construction employers.
  • In New York City, the Hispanic or immigrant death rate from such falls was 74 percent - 88 percent in Queens and 87 percent in Brooklyn.

The study provided information about the reasons for these kinds of numbers:

  • Latino construction workers cited fear of retaliation as a strong reason for not reporting safety concerns.
  • OSHA is unable to adequately inspect for safety violations because of underfunding and understaffing, plus fines for violations are not high enough and criminal prosecutions too rare to be deter illegally unsafe conditions.
  • Latinos and others of color take construction jobs and work as temporary day laborers in relatively higher numbers and also tend to work for smaller construction companies that can be less safe because they are nonunion, lack appropriate training and equipment, and do not respect workers' reports about unsafe conditions.

Other studies point to the contribution of language and cultural barriers to this disproportionately unsafe situation. For example, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH and the American Society for Safety Engineers or ASSE reported jointly in May 2015 about the contributions of these factors in the elevated risk in construction to this ethnic group:

  • Unfamiliarity with U.S. workplace safety practices and rights
  • Lack of proper training
  • Language barriers between workers and their work colleagues and managers
  • Cultural values emphasizing hard and fast work, which can contribute to injury risk

Hispanic construction workers hurt in the workplace or the loved ones of those who pass away in work-related deaths should consult legal counsel about what legal remedies may be available to them to seek compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages and other losses. Potential recovery may be available in a claim under New York's Scaffold Law against a contractor or owner who did not provide appropriate safety equipment for working at heights or protection from falling objects, or in a claim against a negligent third party such as the manufacturer of defective or dangerous equipment that contributed to an injury.

With extensive knowledge about and experience in the complexities of New York construction accident law, the attorneys of Arye, Lustig & Sassower, P.C., represent injured construction workers and their families across New York City.