In South, Hispanics pass blacks in deaths from injuries at work

10/07/04

CHAPEL HILL--For many years -- probably centuries -- black men in the South were more likely than whites or other races and ethnic groups in this country to die from accidents suffered while working.

A new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study shows that that's no longer true. Now, UNC researchers say, Hispanics -- especially in the South -- suffer more fatal occupational injuries than blacks or other groups.

"We observed that southern workers have higher rates of fatal occupational injury than workers in the rest of the country," said Dr. David B. Richardson, research assistant professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health. "And, among workers in the South, Hispanic men are now the group with the highest rate of fatal injury on the job."

The findings suggest that working conditions in the South in more hazardous jobs are less safe than those faced by non-southern workers employed in comparable jobs, said Richardson, who led the study.

"Our work also indicates that greater injury prevention efforts need to be focused on the South and particularly on Hispanic workers in this area."

A report on the research appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health. Besides Richardson, authors are Dr. Dana P. Loomis, professor of epidemiology, James Bena of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati and Dr. A. John Bailer of Miami University and the institute.

For the study, researchers identified deaths occurring between 1990 and 1996 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's national traumatic occupational fatalities surveillance system. Using U.S. census-based workforce estimates, they calculated fatal occupational injury rates by race, ethnicity and region.

Analyses included 26,828 deaths due to on-the-job injuries during the period.

Not unexpectedly, scientists found that female workers faced a much lower fatal injury rate than male workers, Richardson said.

"Black men working in the South had a fatal occupational injury rate that was more than twice the rate for black men working elsewhere in the country," he said. Outside the South, fatal injury rates were highest for non-black workers, intermediate for Hispanic workers and lowest for black workers. In the South, the reverse was true."

Overall, Richardson said, rates of unintentional deaths at work -- those not involving homicide or suicide – declined 1.1 percent a year between 1990 and 1996.

"Estimates of the annual change in fatal injury rates differed by race/ethnicity and region," he said. "For southern workers, Hispanic men had the lowest estimated fatal injury rate in 1990 but were estimated to have a 5.2 percent increase in those rates each year after that. In contrast, fatal occupational injury rates tended to decline over the study period for non-Hispanic men -- both black and non-black."

Richardson and colleagues found essentially the same pattern occurring in other U.S. regions, he said.

"Although in the first years of the study, black men in the South were the racial/ethnic group with the highest fatal occupational injury rate, in the latter years…, rates for Hispanic men in the South exceeded rates for all non-Hispanic workers," the scientist said.

Several factors might have contributed to the death toll among Hispanics, he said. They include on-the-job communication barriers, assignment of more hazardous tasks and failure of employers to invest in training and protective gear for workers who might be short-term or illegal.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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