updated 10/14/2004 3:41:25 PM ET 2004-10-14T19:41:25

Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed a panel Monday to study the high rate of work-related deaths among Hispanic immigrants and to identify ways to lower the risk.

Blagojevich said two potential improvements would be to tighten health and safety requirements in the state’s day laborer law, and to increase bilingual worker training.

Last year, of the 5,559 work-related deaths recorded nationwide by the federal Labor Department, 72 percent of the victims were whites, 14 percent Hispanics, 10 percent blacks, 3 percent Asians, and the rest were of other races or ethnicities.

Hispanic immigrants died of work-related injuries at a rate of 4.5 per 100,000 — higher than all other racial and ethnic groups, according to the department.
In Illinois, there were 17 work-related deaths of Hispanic immigrants in 2000, 30 in 2001 and 27 in 2002, said Esther Lopez, deputy chief of staff for labor and professional regulations in Blagojevich’s office.

Lopez did not offer a comparison between the Illinois and national rates, but supporters of the panel noted that the number of immigrants working in Illinois has increased dramatically in recent years.

Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the number of immigrants in the state increased from 950,000 to 1.6 million during the 1990s — nearly half of them Latino.

“No one should have to work in constant fear of death and injury,” said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who will head the panel of 14 people with backgrounds in labor, academics, immigrant rights and public health.
Blagojevich said he hopes the panel will return with recommendations by the end of the year.

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