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¡Cuidado!: Safety Supplanted By Silence In The Workplace

The National Safety Council declared June to be National Safety Month. What better way to address safety than to discuss workplace safety issues, as so many personal injuries take place in the course of an honest day’s work. Safety on the job is perhaps the biggest concern for those who can’t voice their reservations due to fear and oppression.

According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Hispanic workers are dying on the job at a significantly higher rate than others. According to this study, Hispanic workers died at a rate of 5 per 100,000 workers in 2006. Interestingly, the rate for foreign-born Hispanics, roughly 6 per 100,000, was far higher than the 3.5 per 100,000 for those born in the United States. Why? Companies are taking advantage of the limited alternatives offered to these individuals. In short, immigrant workers need jobs and companies want low-wage workers. Unfortunately, the laws of supply and demand favor big business here.

As I first mentioned in “Breaking Down Borders: Speaking Up For Those Without a Voice,” safety training for immigrant workers is grossly lacking. I have to echo attorney Will Parker’s post, asking, how much does it cost to print safety instructions in two languages? And, as Steve Lombardi pointed out, why are we making it hard for people to do the jobs that we don’t want? Given recent statistics of the CDC, it’s doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We persist in making life as difficult as possible for a group of people who are working their behinds off to save ours.

Just last month, a pregnant teenager died from heat-related causes, laboring in the hot California sun. It is suspected that she collapsed due to a lack of proper access to shade and water. It’s not rocket science that people toiling for hours upon hours in the sweltering heat need periodic rest and hydration. So, why the lack of proper safety regulations? The bottom line: it hurts the bottom line.

But these are people! In a country that declares its dedication to diversity and democracy each and every day, it is startling how little companies seem care about the people doing work that we need survive and thrive. Out of sight, out of mind, perhaps? Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, puts it well, explaining that these workers are not agricultural implements to be used and discarded. Rather, “They are important human beings. Important to their loved ones, important because of the work they perform in feeding all of us.”

The legal status of many immigrants in this country does pose a problem for regulation. But maybe, just maybe, we will begin to see that this is an issue with as much human as legal resonance. And by helping to give a voice to those who cannot use their own, we can help to truly make this the land of the free and casa of the brave.

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