Every 2.5 days a construction worker dies in Texas, according to a recent study released by Workers Defense Project. The report Building Austin, Building Injustice: Working Conditions in Austin’s Construction Industry reveals that 142 construction workers died on the job in Texas in 2007. Furthermore, no other state has so many construction workers die on the job. Sixty-one more workers died in Texas than in the state with the second-highest number of construction fatalities, California, a state with even more construction workers.
The Building Austin, Building Injustice study collected existing government data and primary data through 312 surveys with construction workers and interviews with 37 construction workers and construction employers. Survey results showed that one in five construction workers (21%) suffered a workplace injury that required medical attention. However, only 45% of workers reported that they were covered by workers’ compensation. Additionally, 20% of the workers who had been injured on the job reported that their employer refused to pay their medical bills. Data shows that when employers failed to provide workers’ compensation, workers and hospitals were forced to take the responsibility for the medical costs of work-related injuries. Complicating this matter is the fact that Texas is the only state in the U.S. that makes workers’ compensation insurance coverage optional for any employer.
Building Austin, Building Injustice data shows that more could be done to prevent injury on the job. Forty-one percent of workers reported that their employers did not give them any rest breaks at work, and 27% reported that they were not provided with drinking water. Both rest breaks and drinking water are necessary health protections for extreme Austin weather conditions, with temperatures reaching up to 112 degrees in summer months. Sixty-four percent of construction workers reported that they received no OSHA health and safety training, although OSHA advises that all construction workers receive its Construction 10-Hour Health and Safety training. Finally, nearly one-third of workers (29%) reported providing their own safety equipment at work.
Roofer Pedro Hernandez explained “I’ve never had an employer that has given me a harness or hard hat for work. I’ve always had to bring my own or go without the right [safety] equipment… I once fell off a roof and had to be hospitalized. If my employer had given me the harness I needed, I wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”
Fortunately, Workers Defense Project’s report has brought national attention to unsafe construction working conditions in Austin and in Texas. The Department of Labor, OSHA division recently increased the number of OSHA investigators in Texas. These investigators will ensure that health and safety regulations will be enforced on the construction site. However, our policymakers and construction employers must do more to decrease the unnecessarily high number of deaths on the job. Policymakers and employers must ensure that workers receive health and safety trainings, safety equipment, and access to breaks and water.
To learn more about the Building Austin, Building Injustice report or if you would like to help build a better Austin, visit www.buildaustin.org.