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OSHA's efforts with Hispanic workers paying off, says Henshaw

In response to an Associated Press report last month which found that the death toll for Mexican-born workers has grown to the point that one dies in the United States every day on average, OSHA chief John Henshaw wrote in a letter to editors that while Mexican-born worker death rates "are still too high," his agency is making progress through outreach efforts, according to the AP. Henshaw cited increased inspections in occupations that employ many Hispanics, such as construction and landscaping, partnerships with local groups and a Spanish-language Web site.

"A departmental Hispanic Workers Task Force was created to coordinate this effort, and it is working," Henshaw wrote, citing in particular a one-year decline from 422 Mexican-born worker deaths in 2001 to 387 in 2002.

A range of experts say it's unclear why Mexican-born worker deaths declined in 2002 — the latest year of available federal data — especially since overall Hispanic immigrant worker deaths increased that year. They warned that the decline for Mexicans could prove to be an anomaly and that 2003 data, to be published in September, might show deaths among Mexican-born workers rising again.

Workplace safety experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control and the National Safety Council said no research substantiates a link between OSHA's outreach and the drop in Mexican worker deaths.

"It's not something that you throw a small amount of money at and issue some pamphlets and you're going to see dramatic changes," said David Richardson, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor of epidemiology who tracks worker deaths in the South. "It's a slow battle."

The decline in Mexican-born worker deaths came during the safest year on record for the overall work force in the United States. From 2001 to 2002, total on-the-job deaths fell from 5,915 workers to 5,524 workers — an unprecedented 6.6 percent drop.

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