Labor Program Trains Hispanics in Job Safety

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 10, 2003 | Go to article overview

Labor Program Trains Hispanics in Job Safety


Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Labor Department will begin a program today that includes training Hispanic workers with limited English skills how to avoid injury on the job.

The program is part of the agency's widening effort to protect the rights of Hispanic workers. It follows the Labor Department's first-ever request for federal funding to train foreign-language workers in job-safety techniques, even if they are illegally in the United States.

Nearly all of the requested $2.2 million would be dedicated to training Hispanic workers.

The Labor Department will open an office today in Dallas and plans to open other offices nationwide in the next few months, including the Washington area. The Labor Department's Hispanic task force began testing the concept two years ago in Houston.

"There is currently a project to expand to other cities," said a Labor Department spokesman who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Protecting Hispanic workers from job discrimination and employers who cheat them out of wages are also part of the Justice and Equality in the Workplace Program.

The Hispanic task force continues a Bush administration outreach effort that started during the 2000 election campaign, when Mr. Bush pledged to relax immigration laws.

Since he was elected, President Bush, who speaks Spanish, also met with the Mexican president and appears to be trying to curry Hispanic favor again.

"Our commitment to assure the safety and health of workers in this country extends to all workers, regardless of their language or their immigration status," said administrator John Henshaw of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in announcing the $2.2 million request to Congress for safety training of workers who speak foreign languages.

The Labor Department organized its Hispanic task force in 2001 at the same time that the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report showing that Hispanics died from job injuries at a rate 23 percent higher than the average for all ethnic groups.

Construction work takes the highest toll, accounting for 24 percent of Hispanic workers' deaths. Meatpacking and migrant farm work also contribute.

The BLS report, based on 2000 figures, found the fatality rate for Hispanic workers to be 5.6 per 100,000, compared with 4.2 for white workers and 3.8 for black workers.

A language barrier, suspicion about whether government agencies such as OSHA really seek to protect them and "need" contribute to the high injury rate for Hispanics, the Labor Department spokesman said. …

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