Jorge Mejia was doing day construction work in Chicago, hired off the street, when he nearly lost an eye in a fall. He said bosses rarely told him about the dangers of the job, and that day he recalls not wearing any protective equipment. And the boss, who did not speak Spanish, did not urge him to wear any.

There were four of them, standing on a scaffold and trying to reach the building. But the crew was not close enough, so three workers leaned toward the fourth as he stretched toward the facade.

Just then the scaffold flipped over, and Mejia fell backward, tumbling three stories and hitting the dirt with his back and head. At the hospital, he realized he could only see shadows with one eye.

His back also was badly hurt, and he can no longer lift objects the way he once did. His muscular build is deceptive and helps him get jobs.

Language barrier can be fatal

The failure to communicate may have been fatal for a 16-year-old Latino youth who fell from a construction project and hit his head in May 2004 in South Carolina. The construction boss told the crew chief to take him right away to a hospital. The boss later told federal officials that the crew leader usually understood English. But the leader took the youth to his home and gave him aspirin instead. The teen died that night.

"We have investigated a number of cases where the victim was Spanish-speaking and the training was only in English, and there was little or minimal attempts to translate it into Spanish," said Dawn Castillo, an official with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the research arm for the nation's worker safety and health effort.

"One-fourth of all fatalities investigated by OSHA were in some way related to language barriers." -- John Henshaw, Hispanic Safety and Health Summit, July 2004.

And the toll grows.

While non-Latino workplace fatalities dropped 16 percent between 1992 and 2005, Latino workers' deaths jumped 72 percent during the same time. Last year the fatality rate for Latinos was 4.9 per 100,000 workers, a rate unmatched by any other group. They accounted for more than 16 percent of all deaths though they make up only 13 percent of the workforce. --Chicago Tribune, September 2006

Fatal workplace accidents for Latino workers are mainly caused by falls, moving vehicles in the workplace and traffic incidents, stuck by objects and homicides.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth of the Latino labor force is estimated at 3.5% from 2000 to 2010 reaching in that year a total of 30.3 million workers. Estimating the labor force until 2050, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that one in every four workers will be of Latino origin in 2050.

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