Latinos Have Some of the Most Dangerous Jobs in the US


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Latinos make up 18% of the American workforce and are the fastest growing working population in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

However, there is a lack of Latino representation in corporate leadership, and few occupy high paying jobs in lucrative industries like engineering, technology, and science.

Due to systemic inequities stemming from generations of racism and oppression, many Latinos work labor-intensive jobs in industries such as agriculture, building and ground maintenance, and construction.

These jobs are more physically demanding, putting stress on the body, and are performed outdoors, where workers are exposed to the elements and pollution.

Working these jobs can endanger the health and safety of employees.

Latino workers die on the job more than any other racial or ethnic group, according to a new report from the AFL-CIO, which stands for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and is the largest federation of unions in the US.

Latino Job Deaths

Of the 5,486 workers who died on the job in 2022, 1,248 were Latino, representing a 44% increase from 2003, according to the report.

Of the Latinos who died on the job, 60% were immigrants.

A notable example of Latino immigrant on-the-job deaths was the recent collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The collapse occurred around 1:30 a.m. on March 28, 2024, when a cargo ship lost power and crashed into the bridge, taking the lives of six immigrants performing roadwork during the collapse.

“This incident underscores the dangerous work immigrants do every day to provide for people in the United States and the toll it takes on their families and communities when workplaces are not safe,” the report stated.

The new statistic represents an increase in Latino job fatalities in the US, increasing to 4.6 per 100,000 workers, which is 24% higher than the national average.

Latinos made up the majority of on-the-job deaths in 2022, followed by Black workers at 734 deaths — the most in at least 20 years.

“The alarming disparities in workplace fatalities among workers of color are unacceptable, symptomatic of deeply ingrained racial inequity and the need to pay increased attention to the dangerous industries that treat workers as disposable,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in an organization news release.

Job Death Racial Disparities

Many Latino on-the-job fatalities occurred due to transportation accidents, falls, slips, or trips, or exposure to harmful substances, according to the report.

Workers who are Latino make up 14% of all reported injury and illness cases in the US.

204 Latinos workers died from exposure to harmful substances or environments, including 104 unintentional overdoses — an 11% increase from 2021, compared to a 6% increase for white workers.

California (252), Florida (104), and Texas (269) make up the states with the greatest number of Latino worker fatalities.

The higher fatality rates could be attributed to segregation by race and ethnicity into more dangerous industries and occupations, especially Latino workers in construction and Black workers in food manufacturing, according to the report citing a North Carolina study.

The study found that the disparities were higher in workers older than 45 with a median loss of 47 years of life for Latinos, compared with 37 years for Black workers and 36 years for white workers, the report noted.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers of color, including Latinos, worked in occupations such as meatpacking, food processing, agriculture, and transit, where large outbreaks of the virus were reported.

The risk imposed on the workers was brought home to families, resulting in a disproportionate amount of coronavirus cases among people of color.

The working-age COVID-19 death rate for Black Americans and Latinos was more than 1.5 times to 2.0 times the death rate of whites.

“This report exposes an urgent crisis for workers of color and reaffirms what we’ve long known: When we talk about justice for workers, we must prioritize racial equity,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond said in a news release. “The fact that Black and Latino workers continue to die on the job at disproportionate rates demands a reckoning with the failure of employers to protect them. We must honor the lives lost on the job with action, as we recommit ourselves to advancing safety, health and equity for all workers.”

Overall State of Workplace Deaths

These statistics paint a much larger picture of the state of the occupational labor force in the US.

In 2022, 344 workers died every day because of hazardous working conditions, with an estimated 120,000 deaths caused by occupational diseases such as exposure to asbestosis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Certain environments can also increase your risk for heart disease.

5-9% of employed Latinos are exposed to solvents, metals, or pesticides in the workplace, contributing to adverse health effects.

The number of worker deaths in 2022 raised the job fatality rate in the US to 2.7 per 100,000 workers.

The rate increase was accompanied by 3.5 million reports of work-related injuries and illnesses.

Of those who died on the job in 2022, 43 were deaths due to extreme heat conditions, according to the report.

Heat-related deaths are on the rise in many states experiencing unusually hot weather due to the effects of climate change.

Texas had its hottest summer on record in 2023 with more than 300 Texans dying from heat-related complications, according to an article published by the Texas Tribune.

Some of these deaths were brought on by extreme heat working conditions, which took the lives of a Texas lineman and a postal worker.

The changing climate and corresponding deaths have led to further discussion of how to care for worker safety in the event of extreme weather.

In addition to heat-related deaths, homicides and suicides in the workplace rose by 9% and 13%, respectively, and unintentional overdoses increased 13% from 2021 to 2022.

Meanwhile, serious workplace injuries continue to rise.

In 2022, violent workplace injuries increased to 4.3 per 100,000 workers and musculoskeletal disorders, which occur from repetitive motion, caused 28% of serious work-related injuries and illnesses in private industries.

Costs related to injuries and illnesses on the job are estimated at $174 billion to $348 billion a year.

This places a significant financial burden on Latino families with the injured or ill worker choosing to delay treatment in fear of job loss, cost, or the loss of income associated with addressing the problem.

Putting off treatment can worsen the injury or illness resulting in more expensive healthcare costs, or in some cases, death.

Improving Workplace Safety

The report identifies several actions agencies can take to protect workers and promote equity in the workplace.

For example, the report urges restoring the integrity of regulatory protective systems and updating them to create a “data-informed policy, issue strong standards to address longstanding and emerging hazards, increase transparency and information access, and eliminate barriers to workers reporting injuries.”

“Too many workers face retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions or injuries, while low penalties fail to deter employers from following the law,” Shuler said in the news release.

The report addresses this issue by suggesting OSHA can reach out to complaints in a timely manner to hold workplaces to account and overhaul the whistleblower law, which has limited the agency’s ability to act.

To solve the spike in workplace violence, the report calls on OSHA to make a workplace violence standard, and issue rules on heat illness prevention, emergency response, and infectious disease.

What’s more, job safety agencies need to enforce standards and workplace safety laws to the fullest extent.

They can do this, according to the report, by developing an enforcement plan, investigating complaints, and visiting the work site to perform inspections, which may result in issuing violations and penalties for those not complying with safety standards.

Explore Inequities that Contribute to a Safe Community Where You Live

More work should go toward creating safer work environments for Latinos and all workers, but we also need healthier overall communities, too.

Explore the health of your community by downloading a Salud America! Health Equity Report Card.

The Health Equity Report Card gives you a breakdown of healthy equity where you live, which you can compare to the rest of the state or country.

This information can be shared with family members, co-workers, or union leaders to create change in your community!


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