Barb’s article repeats an assertion that’s commonly made: that foreign workers are generally more reluctant than native workers to report hazards to or request training from their employers. This statement “feels” right. But is it true? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of research done to prove—or disprove it.
One of the few sources of data on how immigrant workers feel about their own safety is a study from the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health (LOSH) Program consisting of in-depth interviews with 75 workers, 90% of whom were immigrants. Study participants came from six industries in Los Angeles County—day labor, domestic, garment, homecare, hotel and restaurant work.
90% of the immigrant workers who participated in the study said they were afraid of getting injured or ill on the job. Many (the doggone researchers didn’t list the actual percentage) of them brought in their own masks, gloves and other protective equipment to protect themselves without being aware that under Cal-OSHA law, employers are supposed to provide such protection.
The majority (57%) of immigrant workers said they had, in fact, suffered a workplace injury or illness. Only 37% of this group actually reported their injury or illness to a supervisor. The main reason cited for not reporting: fear that their status as immigrants made them vulnerable to retaliation. Many of those who did report said that their employer dismissed their illnesses and injuries as inconsequential and didn’t offer any help.
When asked where they went for information and advice on safety, most of the immigrant workers (again, there’s no percentage listed!) cited co-workers, immigrant worker advocacy groups or labor unions. Only a few actually asked their employers for help.
Source: “Voices from the Margins: Immigrants’ Perceptions of Health and Safety in the Workplace,” UCLA LOSH, Oct. 2001, http://www.losh.ucla.edu/publications/immigrant_brief.html