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Immigrant construction workers injured more frequently on the job

It may not be a widely known fact to South Carolina construction workers that, due to budget cuts, the average workplace gets a visit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) just once every 99 years. What effect that might have on workplace safety for immigrant workers on construction sites is anyone's guess.

Contrasted with the reduction in OSHA inspections, a report released by the Center for Popular Democracy on Oct. 24 revealed that in New York, construction site accidents happen with greater frequency to Latino and immigrant workers. The reasons for this state of affairs are disturbing.

An eight-year survey of investigations conducted by OSHA revealed that punitive measures for construction place safety violations are minimal, with rare follow-through on criminal penalties, especially when non-union sites are involved.

Although worker protection laws, such as New York's Scaffold Law, have been in effect since the 1880s, such laws have little effect because of relatively small fines imposed for violations. Penalties range in general from $2000 for a serious injury to only $12,000 for a fatality - what basically amounts to a slap on the wrist for a large construction company.

But ever since a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, workers are prohibited in seeking basic workplace protection, because of their illegal status. Many stay at work on hazardous construction sites because refusing to work under such conditions would result in their deportation.

While Latinos and make up only 34 percent of construction workers in New York state, the fatalities they suffer from "elevation falls" is 60 percent for the state. Other abuses endured by immigrant workers include being paid substantially less than agreed upon, receiving payment with bad checks, being refused breaks and water, and even threats and robbery.

Those seeking a better life and working hard to achieve it should not be subject to inhumane treatment and a dangerous work environment. All workers should receive compensation for injuries, and protection from dangerous conditions.

Source: thinkprogress.org, "Vast Majority Of Construction Site Deaths Are Latino Or Immigrant Workers" Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, Oct. 25, 2013

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