October 7, 2014 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

Washington Post reporter Lydia DePillis investigates the factors behind increasing workplace fatality rates among Latinos, even while overall workplace deaths in the U.S. are on the decline. DePillis starts with the story of Abdón Urrutia, a construction worker who injured his back while working on a project in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

On the day of his injury, after Urrutia lifted himself up the floor, he says, the staff at the company where he worked gave him eight ibuprofen, and he was able to go back to work. And he was back at work the next day, too — on lighter duty, without carrying heavy things.

“That’s how they are. They say it’s nothing big, keep working,” Urrutia said.

About a month later, his back still in pain, Urrutia went to a doctor — but couldn’t afford the MRI she recommended. Urrutia doesn’t have health insurance, saying the company’s coverage is too expensive.

“I just take these pills every day. They work real good,” Urrutia says, holding out a bottle of Naproxen, a powerful painkiller. “It hurts, but I just deal with it, just to get the job done.”

Urrutia says he later told the company he was worried about the number of pills he was taking, not wanting to get addicted. The company gave him some papers to sign, which Urrutia says he thought at the time were an acknowledgement of the dosage. He didn’t read them closely, however — and in fact, the company says, the forms certified that he hadn’t been injured at work.

DePillis goes on to explore the contributors to high rates of work-related fatality and injuries among Latino workers, such as fears of retaliation for speaking up and incomplete data being reported to OSHA. In addition, Latinos are over-represented in dangerous occupations — for example, about one in every three workers in construction and natural resource extraction were Latino in 2013, up from about 24 percent a decade earlier. She writes:

Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of the migrant worker aid group Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, observed the uptick in Latino worker fatalities. She most often hears about widows seeking help to get the bodies of their husbands across the border — 527 of those who died on the job in 2013 were foreign-born, mostly from Mexico.

“A lot of employers suggest to workers that they go back and their wife will make them soup and everything will get better,” says Micah-Jones. “And then they have a really difficult time getting workers compensation or any kind of help.”

To read the full story, visit the Washington Post.

In other news:

Sacramento Business Journal: California Gov. Jerry Brown signed new legislation requiring hospitals to develop comprehensive plans to address workplace violence. Among its measures, the law requires hospitals to evaluate the association between low staffing levels and risk of workplace violence as well as other factors, such as the availability of security personnel. Reporter Kathy Robertson writes that while hospitals opposed the bill, the California Nurses Association applauded the move. In related legislative news, Robertson reports that Brown vetoed a bill that would have made hospital employees who contract difficult-to-treat staph infections eligible for workers’ compensation.

The Washington Post: Abby Phillip and Roberto Ferdman write about the first transmission of Ebola outside of West Africa — a nurse at a hospital in Madrid, Spain, who was caring for a patient with the virus. The article reports that Spanish officials are investigating what went wrong, while health workers raise concerns that current protective gear isn’t adequate and blame the nurse’s infection on substandard equipment. Another article in the Guardian reports that “staff at the hospital where she worked told El País (a daily newspaper in Spain) that the protective suits they were given did not meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards. …Staff also pointed to latex gloves secured with adhesive tape as an example of how the suits were not impermeable and noted that they did not have their own breathing equipment.”

NIOSH Safety Blog: Blogger Gregory Wagner, a senior advisor to the NIOSH director, writes about predictive analytics and its usefulness in reducing risk, injury and disease in the workplace. Wagner posits that predictive analytics hold significant potential for helping researchers pinpoint areas of high risk, more precisely deploy limited resources and more effectively prevent work-related health issues. In addition to writing about possible applications, Wagner also discusses barriers to implementing predictive analytics, such as a lack of data. Wagner is calling on readers to weigh in on the benefits and barriers to predictive analytics — go to the article to post a comment.

The New York Times: In “The Upshot,” writer David Leonhardt discusses the “Great Wage Slowdown,” noting that the “typical American family makes less than the typical family did 15 years ago, a statement that hadn’t previously been true since the Great Depression.” Leonhardt writes about the possible reasons why the wage slowdown may take a turn for the positive, such as stabilizing energy costs and rising numbers of college graduates, however he also writes that the forces behind wage stagnation may still be too strong to overcome anytime soon. Leonhardt writes: “Either way, the great wage slowdown, or the end of it, will help set the tone for American life in the coming decade.

Houston Chronicle: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 10 deadliest jobs in America. At the top? Logging workers, who experience workplace fatalities at a rate of more than 91 per 100,000 full-time workers.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

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