With the death of a Brazilian laborer who was electrocuted while doing construction work at a Walpole retailer in the wee hours of Tuesday, the number of Brazilians dying on the job in Massachusetts has risen from 11 in 2005 to 16 so far.

With the death of a Brazilian laborer who was electrocuted while doing construction work at a Walpole retailer in the wee hours of Tuesday, the number of Brazilians dying on the job in Massachusetts has risen from 11 in 2005 to 16 so far.


Romulo Santos of Somerville, 47, was part of a demolition crew working for a Medford contractor at a Walpole Wal-Mart when he died as he tried to re-attach electrical wires that had been knocked down. Santos died Tuesday at 1 a.m., said Walpole police.


Santos' death is the latest case in a growing wave of Brazilians who die at work, a phenomenon that has drawn the attention of officials at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Occupational Health Surveillance Program (OHSP).


Only a few weeks ago, OSHP researchers finished a Fatality and Assessment Control Evaluation Project - which investigates factors leading to workplace deaths - focusing only on Brazilian deaths. The fact sheet, which did not include Santos' death, said that from 1999 through 2007, 15 Brazilians had died on the job.


The report also said that from 1991- when the program began tracking down deaths on the job in Massachusetts - through 1998, no deaths of Brazilian workers were recorded. In comparison, between one or two people die on the job per week in the state.


Between 2005 and 2007, there was a 50-percent increase in the numbers of Brazilian deaths, and that growth has researchers worried. In the end, what the report underscores is the need to prevent deaths among Brazilian workers, said Letitia Davis, program director.


"The Brazilian community needs to be aware about their rights on the job and health safety standards,'' said Davis. "And employers need to make sure they provide a workplace free of hazards to employees.''


The growing trend of Brazilian deaths also reflects the increase in the number of Brazilian immigrants living in Massachusetts, said Davis, and highlights the fact that immigrants tend to work in more dangerous jobs where hazards are inadequately controlled.


Of the 15 that died, more than half worked in construction, said the report. Falls accounted for half of the deaths. Three construction workers were killed by moving vehicles. Most of the victims hailed from Minas Gerais, the state in Brazil that sends most Brazilians to the United States.


Immigrants indeed make up a large portion of construction workers in Massachusetts, said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupation Safety and Health (MassCOSH).


Their proportion, she said, is nearly twice that of native-born. In 2007, 9.7 percent of immigrants worked in construction as opposed to 6 percent of native-born workers.


"Immigrant workers tend to work in high risk jobs and they're often exploited and not aware of their rights,'' said Goldstein-Gelb. "They're risking their lives and limbs to earn a living, and they're not being provided adequate training, protective equipment and fundamental safety measures that can make the difference between life and death.''


Experts said immigrant workers face higher fatality and work-related injury rates than native-born workers because they're disproportionately employed in high risk jobs. Also, language barriers and lack of training, experience and knowledge of laws and safety and health standards make them more vulnerable. Between 1991 and 1999, of the 633 workers who died at work in Massachusetts, 110 were immigrants.


Hispanic workers, for example, have a higher fatality rate compared to black and white workers in the state, said Davis. The rate for Hispanics is 3.7 deaths per 100,000 workers, while the rate for white workers is 2.2 deaths and for black workers is 2.7 deaths.


There are some efforts under way to help reduce the risk of deaths among Brazilian workers led by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Allston's Brazilian Immigrant Center, but experts say more needs to be done.


The report said that many of the Brazilian deaths could have been prevented if proper safety measures had been in place. Carlos Eduardo Siqueira, a professor at UMass-Lowell's Department of Work Environment, agrees.


"Brazilian workers are dying because they're unprotected,'' he said. "They work in extremely hazardous jobs and they deserve the same protection as any other worker. That's the law. They shouldn't die because they're immigrants.''


The MetroWest Daily News


Some fatal injury cases among Brazilians (1999-2007)



A 38-year-old male stone cutter at a granite product manufacturer was trying to retrieve a granite slab from a holding rack when five granite slabs weighing approximately 5,000 pounds fell over, crushing him against a cement table.
A 41-year-old male laborer at a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company fell 20 feet from an extension ladder while drilling a fresh air vent in the roof of a new residential building.
A 36-year-old male landscaper employed by a landscaping company for the day climbed a tree and was cutting some of the upper branches when the base of the tree gave way causing the tree and the victim to fall approximately 30 feet to a paved driveway.
A 27-year-old male construction worker at a masonry company fell approximately 130 feet from the scaffold platform he and a co-worker were dismantling. The scaffold collapsed when the last metal support affixing the scaffold to the new residential building was removed.
A 40-year-old male roofer employed by a roofing company was electrocuted when the 32-foot aluminium extension ladder he was unloading from a pickup truck came in contact with an overhead power line at a residential work site.

Source: "Fatal Work-related Injuries among Brazilians in Massachusetts 1999-2007'' by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Occupational Health Surveillance Program and Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Project.