A Washington State University professor and his team are collaborating with the state’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to research how to overcome barriers Latinos have when returning to work after on-the-job injuries.

The team will consist of: Brian McNeill, a professor of counseling psychology at WSU’s College of Education; Rolando Rodriguez, a certified disability management specialist who has worked extensively within the Latino community; and Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

The grant-funded project is part of the L&I’s Safety and Health Investment Projects (SHIP) program. According to L&I, the purpose of SHIP is to identify, fund, and assist with the implementation of health and safety projects specifically designed to eliminate workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

Washington State Trauma Registry data from the last 10 years demonstrates Latinos bear an increasingly disproportionate burden of occupational injuries. However, published studies have not addressed the reasons or causes for the workplace injuries or studied the barriers impeding Latinos from returning to work.

The scope of the research does not include the injuries themselves, but rather just the return-to-work aspect.

“Because of the ramifications of our research, this matters a great deal for the whole state,” McNeill said. “And while there are things we don’t know from past research, what we do know is that Latinos represent a good percentage of residents in our state, so return-to-work initiatives among injured Latino communities is really important.”

The latest data (2018) from the state’s Office of Financial Management says that statewide, Latinos represent 12 percent of the population, with some counties, such as Franklin County at 55.3 percent, to be much higher.

McNeill said doing the research in Franklin County allows for more sufficient data gathering, thereby facilitating appropriate creation of better return-to-work initiatives among Latinos who are industrially injured.

“This demands attention to determine how we can better create a culturally-competent and linguistically-appropriate return-to-work program that will assist both Latinos and employers with increasing the number of Latinos who can return to work.”