January 13, 2015 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

BuzzFeed reporter David Noriega investigated work-related fatalities among Latino construction workers, finding that the risk of dying on the job is on the rise for such workers, who are losing their lives in greater numbers and at disproportionate rates than others in the industry. He writes:

After the housing bust bottomed out in 2010, the fatality rate among Latino construction workers rose by nearly 20%. For non-Latinos, the fatality rate has dropped by more than 5%.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2010 and 2013, the number of deaths among Latinos in the construction industry rose from 181 to 231. The number of deaths also rose in the industry overall, from 774 to 796. But Latinos account for this rise entirely: During the same period, deaths for non-Latino construction workers fell from 593 to 565.

Noriega looks into the reasons for such vulnerabilities, such as immigration status as well as the impact of an understaffed OSHA. In particular, he examined the November death of Delfino Jesus Velazquez, an employee of Formica Construction. Velazquez was fatally buried under debris during the demolition of a Staten Island car dealership. Unfortunately, the workplace death wasn’t the first such incident for the company: In 2007, one of the company’s owners was convicted of criminally negligent homicide after a trench collapsed, burying a worker. Despite such negligence, a judge renewed the company’s license. Noriega writes:

Workplace safety experts and advocates in New York argue Formica Construction’s story is emblematic of how loose construction practices systematically claim the lives of immigrant workers. Regulations, they say, are grievously under-enforced in large segments of the industry, which allows contractors to repeatedly cut corners in ways that increase the risk of fatal accidents.

To read the full story, visit BuzzFeed.

In other news:

San Francisco Gate: Reporter Dave McCumber writes about Paul Zygielbaum, a retired engineer who’s been fighting asbestos-related disease and the asbestos industry for more than a decade. The story chronicles the legislative battle to ban asbestos, including specific proposals in Congress as well as work to revamp the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. In particular, the article noted an attempt in 2007 to pass federal legislation that banned asbestos. However, the attempt, which ultimately failed, only illustrated the persuasive reach of the asbestos industry. McCumber writes: “Somehow — nobody is saying exactly how — the bill was watered down in markup. In particular, a one-word change — from asbestos-containing ‘product’ to asbestos-containing ‘material’ — gutted the proposed ban. …The use of the word ‘product’ would have effectively banned everything that contains asbestos. The use of the word ‘material,’ on the other hand, meant that anything containing up to 1 percent asbestos, by weight, would remain legal.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Following last year’s passage of a minimum wage increase in Minnesota, restaurant owners are looking for an exemption, writes reporter Patrick Condon. The state’s minimum wage went up to $8 an hour last August and will eventually rise to $9.50 by 2016. However, the Minnesota Restaurant Association is proposing a capped minimum wage for tipped employees at $8 an hour, which would stay in place as long as such workers make $12 an hour with tips included. According to Condon, the restaurant association’s vice president called it the “Minnesota Nice approach.” However, a spokesman for the state’s AFL-CIO chapter said: “Given all we hear about stagnant wages, and that wages need to go up — we shouldn’t be focused on capping them or cutting them, which is what a tip penalty would do.”

California Healthline: Reporter Bob Norberg writes that California lawmakers will once again consider the issue of paid sick leave for home health care workers. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a paid sick leave bill only after home health care workers were removed from it. However, the new bill would extend the benefits to the state’s 400,000 home health care workers, giving them three days of paid sick leave annually if they work 30 or more days in a year.

Journal-Advocate: Researchers at Colorado State University are now looking for ways to protect the respiratory health of dairy farm workers. With a $900,000 federal research grant, researchers will be exploring the reasons why dairy workers seem to be susceptible to asthma, chronic bronchitis and decreased lung function and what types of interventions can be effective in decreasing the risk of work-related illness. According to the article, a number of dairy farms have already signed on to participate in the research.

The New York Times: The newspaper’s editorial board wrote in support of the firing of Kelvin Cochran, who oversaw more than 1,000 firefighters and staff as chief of Atlanta’s fire department. Cochran authored a book in 2013 that he distributed to his staff and that included extremely anti-gay views — according to the editorial, the book “called homosexuality a ‘perversion,’ compared it to bestiality and pedophilia, and said homosexual acts are ‘vile, vulgar and inappropriate.’” After an investigation, Cochran was dismissed for, among other things, exposing the city to discrimination lawsuits. Some, however, are claiming that Cochran’s free speech rights and right to religious freedom were violated. The Times editorial board disagreed: “Nobody can tell Mr. Cochran what he can or cannot believe. If he wants to work as a public official, however, he may not foist his religious views on other city employees who have the right to a boss who does not speak of them as second-class citizens.”

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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