Latinos are 24% more likely to die in workplace accidents than the rest of the population

Data from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations shows that 1,248 Hispanics died in 2022. Of those killed on the job, 60% were immigrants

Family members of Jose Lopez, one of the six men killed on the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge
Relatives of José López, who died in the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, at a vigil on April 26.Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)
Ana Vidal Egea

A 300-meter cargo ship struck the largest bridge in the port city of Baltimore on March 26. The overpass, which was undergoing maintenance work, collapsed in a matter of seconds. Six people were killed, the only ones who were not evacuated after the ship’s alarm signal. All six were Latino workers from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. The images of the monumental structure turned into rubble of concrete and bent steel dominated front pages across the country for days, but the event also hides a harsh reality that thousands of Latino and immigrant workers in the United States live with. Due to a variety of factors, they are 24% more likely to die in workplace accidents than the rest of the population.

Latinos lead the unfortunate statistic for the fifth consecutive year, but the numbers of fatalities are also increasing. This is reflected in the study Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2024, recently published by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). This research is based on data from 2022, a year in which a total of 344 workers died each day due to poor working conditions and chronic occupational diseases.

Vista de un accidente automovilístico en Florida
Paramedics at the site where eight Mexican workers were killed when a truck crashed on May 14 in Marion, Florida.MARION COUNTY FIRE RESCUE / HAND (EFE)

But more striking is the disparity in fatal workplace accidents suffered by Hispanics compared to other groups. Latinos are, by far, the workers who are more likely to die on the job. The study shows that 1,248 Hispanics died in 2022 while performing their professional duties, which represents a 24% increase in the risk of death compared to a decade ago. The second most affected group are Black workers, with 734 recorded deaths. Although far behind Latinos, this is the highest number of Black workplace fatalities in the last 15 years.

“This report exposes an urgent crisis for workers of color and reaffirms what we have long known: when we talk about justice for workers, we must prioritize racial equity,” said Fred Redmond, secretary of the AFL-CIO. “The fact that Latino and Black workers continue to die on the job at disproportionate rates is evidence of employers’ failure to protect them. We must promote safety, health and equity for all workers.”

A possible cause of the high mortality among workers of Hispanic origin is the fact that the occupational mortality rate of self-employed workers is three times higher than that of salaried workers, since they are not covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to data from the same study. Latinos who are self-employed or work as contractors (most of them immigrants) may be afraid of losing their jobs if they report the dangerous working conditions they face, leading them to take life-threatening risks.

Operators work to free the ship stuck when the bridge collapsed in Baltimore on May 10.
Operators work to free the ship stuck when the bridge collapsed in Baltimore on May 10.Kevin Dietsch (Getty Images)

“Too many workers face retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions or injuries,” notes Liz Schuler, the current president of the AFL-CIO. “The alarming disparities in workplace fatalities among workers of color are unacceptable, symptomatic of deep-seated racial inequity and the need for greater attention to dangerous industries that treat workers as disposable.” In this sense, many Hispanic workers are completely unprotected and at a distinct disadvantage relative to the rest.

Another fact that helps explain the higher risk for Latino workers is that the construction industry is responsible for the highest number of occupational fatalities. According to Portia Wu, Maryland’s secretary of labor, speaking to WYPR, this industry “accounts for only 5% of the workers in Maryland, but it accounts for about 30% of the fatalities.” Considering that about two-thirds of workers in the industry are Latino, and many of them undocumented immigrants, the statistic makes more sense. This group often takes on the toughest and riskiest jobs due to their precarious status and virtually non-existent rights. In fact, 60% of Latinos killed in workplace accidents are immigrants.

The responsibility for these deaths lies both with the companies, which are responsible for providing a safe environment for their workers, and with the government, which must establish regulations for these companies and harsher penalties for those that fail to comply. The focus is now on what measures the candidates for the next presidential elections will include in their programs and what importance they will give to this increasingly alarming problem.

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