As Charleston job injury attorneys know, shipping yards are very dangerous places for all employees who work there. This is especially true for Mexican workers. Shipbreaking is a very dangerous business and many workers are injured or killed on the job. According to the OSHA, shipbreaking is nearly twice as dangerous as construction work and is one of the jobs where someone is most likely to sustain an injury. Workers are also at a high risk for lead poisoning, since old vessels are loaded with lead paint. Shipyards do not allow workers to smoke or eat on the job as a way to limit lead ingestion through the mouth.
The shipbreaking yards in Brownsville, Texas are located about three miles from the Mexico border. Many of their workers are from Mexico, as each of these shipbreaking yards provides about 800 jobs to the regional economy. Workers are exposed to asbestos, lead, PCBs and other toxic chemicals found in the old ships they dismantle.
However, for Mexican workers it pays to put their health at risk. In Mexico, shipyard workers earn about $50 a week, but only 35 miles away at the Port of Brownsville, they can earn $280 a week. Workers must have proper immigration papers and green cards, but about half live across the border and commute under various labor programs. Although the average salary for a shipyard worker is less that $17,000 a year and offer virtually no benefits, these jobs are coveted in the struggling region of the Rio Grande Valley.
Due to its inexpensive, nonunion labor pool, tropical weather that allows for an uninterrupted work schedule and easy access to foreign and domestic steel and recycling markets, Brownsville has remained a large shipbreaking hub since the late 1960s.
The shipyard workers are offered no health benefits, but for Mexican commuters, they can pay a minimal annual fee to participate in Mexico’s national health-care program.
Many shipbreaking yards have been shut down by investigators for environmental violations and improper working conditions.
Source: The Virginian-Pilot- “Archive: The Ghost Fleet”- Sept. 17, 2009.