Most Latino Laborers Use Safety Gear When Available, Study Finds

UIC Podcast
UIC Podcast
Most Latino Laborers Use Safety Gear When Available, Study Finds

News Release


[Writer] This is research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Today, Dr. Susan Buchanan, clinical assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the UIC School of Public Health, talks about her recent study that finds most Latino day laborers in Chicago used personal protective equipment when it was provided, likely preventing occupational injuries.

Here’s Professor Buchanan:

[Buchanan] Several years ago, a group of us in the environmental and occupational health sciences division realized that the day labor population in Chicago was probably at high risk for occupational injury.

So we started looking at this population and trying to figure out how we could get the data from them and about them regarding their occupational risks, their injuries, what types of jobs they were doing.

So we linked up with Latino Union, a support group for the workers. They have a physical site and they also are present on street corners where the workers wait for work.Day laborers in Chicago are mostly from Latin American, they’re Spanish speaking. There’s also a group of Polish speaking and Eastern European workers that wait at other sites. On the South Side there are some African American groups that wait on the street corners. Typically day laborers wait on street corners, they wait in the parking lots of some big box construction, self-help stores. So they’re mainly found out in public and they wait for small contractors to come by and pick them up for work each day.

They don’t know what type of work they’re going to be doing so they usually do not have any personal protective equipment with them. And what the Latino Union has found is that many workers are not using any personal protective equipment at all and performing extremely hazardous jobs.

So in this current study called “Piloting Personal Protection Equipment Distribution Program Among Chicago Day Laborers” we worked with Latino Union to get access to the day laborers that wait at three different sites in Chicago. And we distributed personal protective equipment to them. We had nine different pieces of equipment. We set up the study like a health fair so that the workers went from station to station, received a short training on the piece of PPE, and they then received the PPE in a duffel bag at the end of the circle of tables.

We held these health fair-type distributions in Humboldt Park where the workers play soccer on Sundays; we held it in a church basement; we held one at the physical worker’s center in Albany Park where some workers go to wait for work; and we also held a distribution on Lawrence Avenue in a parking lot where the workers waited.

We got their telephone numbers – those who had them – and then after one or two months we called them back to find out what PPE they used, what worked best for them, what tasks were they using them for.

We had 117 participants in the study; and 42 of them were contacted afterwards. Many workers were not available because this is a transient population and some didn’t have phones, didn’t answer phones. This follow-up rate is actually pretty good compared to other researchers who’ve worked with this day labor population.

We also distributed hard hats, coveralls, ear plugs, knee pads and metal insoles, and sunglasses. The hard hats, coveralls and ear plugs were the least used. They reported not using the hard hats because they weren’t performing jobs that they thought required hard hats. It was not that they were doing, performing jobs that needed hard hats and they weren’t using them.

They noted that some of the equipment wore out too quickly. They were given overalls and those were often ripped on the first use. The gloves we bought didn’t hold up real well. But overall their assessment of the program was extremely positive; for 94 percent of the jobs that were performed they used PPE that we gave them. So we feel that we certainly increased their use of PPE, hopefully preventing injuries.

The ultimately goal of this study is to prevent occupational injuries and using personal protective equipment is one way to help in prevention.

One of the other major ways to prevent occupational injury is preventive measures at the workplace. Whether it be that the employer provides the PPE or the employer designs the job task to prevent injury.

This is usually not possible in day laborers. These are small contractors, often home owners. We were also very careful not to approach any of the contractors or home owners because we didn’t want them to become reluctant to hire the day laborers in the first place and that was a very clear goal in an agreement between us and the Latino Union center. We don’t want to interfere with their ability to get work.

In conclusion, we distributed over 1000 pieces of PPE to 117 day laborers; gave them training on their use; and they used the PPE for 94 percent of the jobs they performed.We were very encouraged with the results. Questions remaining are how to assure that they use the PPE for every job task that they find hazardous; how to increase protection provided by the employers; how to get them durable PPE; and make sure that they take it with them on the job.

[Writer] Susan Buchanan is a clinical assistant professor in environmental and occupational health sciences at the UIC School of Public Health.

For more information about this research, go to, click on “news releases” and look for the release dated March 22, 2012.

This has been research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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