Fort Wayne citizens are concerned about recent on-the-job deaths

By Cris Marshall

Local community leaders in Fort Wayne have developed a task force to investigate a significant increase in Hispanic worker deaths in Indiana this summer. In June alone, five Hispanic workers have been killed in construction and other manual labor job related injuries. This nearly equals the average yearly death rate for Hispanics on the job in Indiana. 

William KIemme is a retired linguistics professor who has been actively involved with labor issues since 1993. He volunteers for the Worker’s Project in Allen County that focuses on the rights of organized workers. After a discussion at a local cultural event, Klemme and a group of leaders from ethnic heritages including Hispanic, African, and Burmese have have begun meeting to talk about this “rash” of deaths.

Klemme says that according to OSHA, Hispanic workers die from these types of accidents at a rate of 5 per 100,000 compared to the general population at 4 per 100,000. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics looked specifically at Hispanic deaths, 67% of the victims were born outside of the United States. To him and the other task force members, that points directly to language comprehension.

The task force will discuss many other issues regarding minority worker safety, but language will be looked at closely. The Pew Hispanic Center’s Associate Director, Rakesh Kochhar, issued a statement recently that said that many hispanic construction workers have a language barrier that hinders their understanding of the job, its risks, and adequate safety training. In Fort Wayne, that would extend to other newcomers from Africa, Burma, and other countries and many other languages.

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has a provision under Title VII that protects all workers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will investigates cases for workers who believe that they have not been provided with language suff icient on-the-job training.