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Seton Hall Law Review

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immigration, work place safety, high risk occupations, fatality rates


Health Law and Policy | Immigration Law | Law | Workers' Compensation Law


Immigration has become a focal point of many political campaigns, most notably that of President Trump in 2016 and again in 2020. Populist rhetoric also decries immigrant workers for taking Americans' jobs and depressing wages for U.S.-born workers. Yet immigrants serve a constructive role by working in some of the most dangerous occupations in the country. It is well-known that immigrant workers, particularly those from Mexico with limited English language skills, face a higher workplace fatality rate than native workers. Efforts to reverse this trend have long been the focus of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which undertook numerous policy initiatives under the Bush and Obama Administrations to reduce immigrant fatalities in the workplace.

Using three different datasets, this Article empirically shows that, while job safety has improved for immigrant workers, more gains are required to reduce immigrant fatality rates to align with those of native workers. In reaching this result, we make several contributions to the literature. First, we use recent data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) to show that immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, experienced higher fatality rates than native-born workers in 2003, 2007, and 2015. Second, we empirically demonstrate that a large group of recent immigrants to the United States, as reported in the New Immigrant Survey, either remain in high-risk jobs or increase their fatality risks over time. In doing so, we are the first researchers to exploit the longitudinal nature of the New Immigrant Survey to assess whether immigrant workers progressed into safer jobs between 2003 and 2007. Finally, we provide updated estimates of the Value of Statistical Life for immigrant workers using recent fatality data from the 2015 CFOI. Here, we show that unlike native-born workers, immigrant workers-especially those from Mexico-are not only in higher-risk jobs but also not compensated with hazard pay for workplace fatality risks.

In conjunction, these results show that, while OSHA's outreach programs toward immigrants have served a constructive function, more can be done to communicate job risks to immigrant workers to help them progress into safer jobs. In particular, since immigrant workers who lack English proficiency suffer most in the labor market, we recommend that OSHA target its outreach programs toward providing safety materials in an immigrant worker's native language to alert workers to the hazards that are present and to promote safety training that immigrant workers can understand. Additionally, we also suggest that OSHA conduct a benefit-cost analysis to assess alternative regulatory policies that mandate employers to provide safety and training materials in other languages, such as Spanish.



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