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Labor Officials Want To Improve Safety For Latino Workers

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Construction Ax
RALEIGH, N.C. — Latino workers are taking part in the most dangerous professions like construction and agriculture in North Carolina. Too many times, safety falls short, so officials are looking at ways to address the issue.

Last week, a worker was killed at a

Smithfield lumber company

when he became trapped in a mountain of sawdust. In March, a laborer died in Holly Springs when he was crushed under a concrete culvert.

That same day

, another worker died at Carter-Finley Stadium when a steel reinforced column collapsed. All three workers were Latino.

State Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said statistics show two different trends. The latest federal numbers showed 203 North Carolina workplace deaths in 2001. The tragedies dropped dramatically in 2002 to 169.

Hispanic numbers go the other direction. Twenty workers died in 2001. Twenty-five workers were killed on job sites in 2002.

"All of it is a concern to us -- the communication barriers, the cultural differences, training, whether it's been appropriate and proper," Berry said.

House Bill 1627 tries to address the problem. It calls for $100,000 to pay for construction safety training for non-English speaking workers at community colleges. Employers who send 75 percent of their workers would benefit from reduced fines if accidents do happen.

"We wanted to find a way to help business whether small or large to resolve this problem, while at the same time helping to ensure that these types of injuries are reduced or eliminated," said Rep. Wayne Goodwin, D-Richmond.

Berry said the money would be better spent on mobile classrooms that take bilingual training right to the work site.

Whether through church outreach programs or Spanish public service announcements, the Department of Labor is trying to reach more Latino workers. Holding businesses responsible is another approach.All three accidents in the story remain under investigation.


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