The need for triage is clear

May 8, 2015

Young Hispanics at small construction firms at highest safety risk

By Bill Kenealy

Workers Comp Coverage Workers Comp Construction Business Risks
Construction Worker Safety

Construction workers who are Hispanic, young and employed by small firms likely face greater occupational safety challenges than almost any other employee segment or in any industry in the United States, a new report finds.“Overlapping Vulnerabilities: The Occupational Safety and Health of Young Immigrant Workers in Small Construction Firms,” published Wednesday by the American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, used existing data sources to document the challenges faced by these workers.The report examines how a variety of factors, including worker age, business size and ethnic makeup of the workforce interrelate to influence risk.

“A worker with overlapping vulnerabilities is simultaneously a member of two or more at-risk groups such as immigrants, temporary workers, new workers, older workers, small-business employees and nonunion workers,” says the report, which focused only on Hispanics.

These overlapping vulnerabilities are more common in the construction industry, where Hispanic immigrants accounted for approximately 20% of the workforce in the United States in 2013, according to census data.

While construction is inherently a high-risk industry, it is more risky for immigrants, the report finds.

“Many immigrants are unfamiliar with the risks they face on the job, standard safety procedures in the United States and the regulatory infrastructure that protects their right to a safe workplace,” the report states. “In addition, cultural factors, such as how immigrants understand and approach work, safety, risk and their relationship with their co-workers and employers, also contribute to occupational safety and health disparities among workers in this population.”

In addition to cultural and language barriers, the preponderance of small companies in the construction industry exposes workers to risk, the report finds.

“Approximately 90% of construction businesses employ 20 or fewer workers,” the report states. “Evidence suggests that smaller businesses experience a disproportionate burden of occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.”

The report recommends that occupational safety and health professionals in construction study how these vulnerabilities overlap and tailor safety programs to match the needs of their business.

“Developing effective interventions requires an understanding of both the unique barriers and assets these groups have,” the report states.

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