Latinos are at elevated risk working at New York construction sites

Latino construction workers in New York face the chance of injury or death at a disproportionate rate.

In New York, Latino construction workers are at higher risk of work-related death than are their colleagues of other ethnicities, according to a January 2017 report by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, known as NYCOSH. NYCOSH is a charitable organization that promotes employee health and safety at worksites. The nonprofit advocacy organization found a disproportionate risk of harm shouldered by Latino construction workers:

  • They are more likely to suffer job-related death because of "extreme employer recklessness and disregard for human life." Specifically, employers were nearly seven times more likely to have committed willful safety-law violations at New York construction sites where Latino workers died.
  • Latinos comprised roughly one-third of workers in the construction industry, but almost 60 percent of fatal falls were suffered by this group, citing 2015 federal data.
  • Latinos working for construction companies, especially those born abroad, are much more likely to be shorted in their pay by their employers than are other workers.

NYCOSH expressed concern that Latino construction workers often provide the only financial support for their families, both here and for relatives left behind in their countries of origin.

Recommendations for improvement

In the report, it recommends that government regulators and safety officials specifically aim to protect Latinos and immigrants as a whole working in construction because of the disproportionate risk of death they suffer. Specifically, NYCOSH recommends providing information and education to this group of workers in the languages they speak and understand. This outreach should occur without regard to immigration status.

Possible reasons for the disparity

An article in Safety and Health magazine suggests some possible reasons for disproportionate numbers of Latino worker injury and deaths on the job nationally:

  • Language barriers to understanding training and safety practices
  • Employers who "violate workers' rights" because they know Latino workers may be afraid of retaliation if they speak up, including threat of deportation
  • Fear of loss of employment or immigration problems if workers report safety problems
  • Cultural belief that reporting injury or safety concerns to an employer would be "inappropriate or an inconvenience"
  • Lack of knowledge about federal, state and local government work-safety agencies and laws

Injured Latinos should seek legal counsel

When a Latino construction worker (or any construction worker) is injured on the job, he or she should consult an attorney to understand what legal options may exist for recovery. Similarly, the surviving family of a construction worker who has suffered a work-related death should consult a lawyer as well.

Potential legal remedies, depending on the situation, may include:

  • Workers' compensation benefits, including for death
  • Third-party lawsuits against responsible nonemployer parties like property owners of dangerous worksites or manufacturers of defective equipment
  • Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, called SSDI, for severe disability preventing work for at least one year or expected to result in death
  • Claims under the New York Scaffold law for certain injuries incurred when job sites involve working at elevated heights
  • Wrongful death suits

Do not delay in consulting a lawyer because strict deadlines may apply to certain types of legal claims.

The lawyers at Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., in Schenectady represent injured workers in the area, including Troy, Albany and the Capital District.