June 22, 2009 The Pump Handle 3Comment

In Texas, a construction worker dies every two and a half days. In the Texas Observer, Melissa Del Bosque explains that it’s because of “lax enforcement of labor and safety regulations, too many overtime hours without rest breaks and a lack of safety training and equipment.” The Austin-based nonprofit Workers Defense Project, which helps construction workers seek restitution for injuries, spent three months visiting construction sites to interview workers about these issues. Del Bosque summarizes their findings:

Researchers found that Austin construction workers—whether they’re legal immigrants, undocumented workers or seventh-generation Anglos—have plenty in common: Most work long hours without overtime. Few receive adequate safety training. And few get basic safety equipment when they’re hired for a job.

“Texas has failed to guarantee even basic safety and labor protections,” [Workers Defense Project’s Cristina] Tzintzún says.

At least 45 percent of the workers surveyed earned poverty-level wages. One in five had been injured on the job. Sixty-four percent said they had not gotten basic safety or health training. Many reported that they’d had to bring their own hard hats and safety belts to both government-funded and private-job sites.

In other news:

Washington Post: Virginia trucker Arthur Pierce fell into a coma while on the job (evidently from a fall), but his wife wasn’t able to collect workers’ compensation benefits – although she probably would have received benefits if he’d died immediately, rather than dying after 16 months in a coma. Now, Claire Pierce is working to change the Virginia’s workers’ compensation law.

Associated Press: Moderate-income, non-disabled veterans had been denied enrollment into the Veterans Administration healthcare system; now, the VA is expanding eligibility to an estimated 266,000 veterans who meet that description.

Washington Post: Obama has signed a presidential memorandum extending some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers – although extending health benefits to those partners will require the passage of legislation that’s currently before Congress.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Canada is spending millions to remove asbestos from government buildings – but, unlike other developed countries, it still exports asbestos to India (40 million tons last year), where many workers are exposed to asbestos without safeguards or trainings.

New York Times: Italy has one of the worst job-safety records in Europe, but recent deadly workplace disasters have spurred an effort to toughen sanctions for companies that fail to address workplace hazards.

3 thoughts on “Occupational Health News Roundup

  1. They quote “In 2007, 142 construction workers died in Texas, more than any other state in the country. California ranked second highest with 81 – about half as many – deaths. (footnote 9)”

    Texas Workforce Commission. http://www.tracer2.com/ is where the footnote takes me, but I can’t find anything there on the death statistics.

    Looking at the http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial/upload/doj_2009.pdf

    It shows that the 2007 fatalitiy rate for Texas is 4.8.
    Ranking of Texas fatality rate, 2007 is 28th.
    That certainly is not alarming.

    Wyoming led the country with the highest fatality rate (17.1 per 100,000), followed by Montana (11.0), Alaska (9.2), West Virginia (7.8) and Mississippi (7.5). there are states double Texas on the death rate for 2007.

    The total Texas fatalities is 538 in 2007, but there is no breakdown for construction. The DOJ reports “The construction sector had the largest number of fatal work injuries (1,204) in 2007”

    I don’t know if Texas fatalities jumped alot in 2008, but this news article would seem to indicate that over 10% of all constructions deaths are in Texas. I sure would like to see more data for the basis of their premise.

  2. The difference in fatality rates (number of deaths divided by population) isn’t too surprising, because Texas has a large population – so, even with a high number of deaths, the rate can be fairly low. Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska, all have small populations, so even a relatively small increase in deaths could make their rates zoom up. I’m guessing that their high rates are due to oil & gas and, in Alaska’s case, fishing, which are among the most dangerous industries.

    So, is it feasible for Texas to have 8% of the nation’s population but 11.5% of the nation’s construction deaths? I think it is, due largely to the reasons mentioned in the article, but also to a construction boom in Texas. In one chart that shows total 2007 construction employment, Texas had 642 million construction jobs; only California had more (892 million), and only Florida (598 million) comes close to Texas.

  3. Thanks for responding Liz. I question the fatality number. I just never seen a number that high. I wish I could find a basis of the number. It sure would be nice to know more. OSHA should let you have a look at their fatalities so people could see if there are any trends.

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