Story and Photos by: Itzel Garcia
(link) Construction Safety Audio: Katie Keenan and James Grachos
Captions by: Jane Morgan Scott
In March 1st, Workers Defense marched for the safety and prevention of construction workers’ lives, in their annual “Day of the Fallen.”
House Bill 863, by state Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston), attempts to provide safety training for construction workers in Texas that could potentially prevent workers’ deaths and in-work accidents.
“This is something that provides an industry standard, is going to re-do sick days, is going to create fewer missed hours due to worker’s injury,” Matthew Hall, a staffer for Rep. Hernandez, said. “In the long run, it makes good economic sense, good business sense… Both for the state and frankly, private contractors.”
State Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) filed Senate bill 467, a similar bill to HB 863, but it has not moved since it was referred to the Business and Commerce committee. Two other similar bills, House Bill 423 by Rep. Hernandez and Senate Bill 1389 by state Sen. Gallegos (D-Houston), were also filed in 2011 and 2013. However, none of the bills were passed. Senate Bill 1348 was left pending in State Affairs, and House Bill 423 did not advance to a hearing.
The bill comes after Texas continues a steady climb in worker’s deaths and injuries in the workplace, according to data from the United States Department of Labor. From 2003 to 2014, Texas took the top spot for workers’ injuries and deaths.
Though, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, a federal act, was created to administer safety training, Texas does not require sub-contractors to provide safety training, according to Hall.
In 2015, according to a news release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several construction occupations recorded their highest fatality total in years, including construction workers (highest since 2008); carpenters (2009); electricians (2009); and plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters (2003).
“There’s no state law that requires contractors to provide minimum state safety training, and that can be pretty problematic,” Hall said. “When you have just one federal agency requiring safety standards, that’s just one federal agency, their man power may be very limited.”
Protesters held signs with the names of workers who have died while on the job.
House Bill 863 would make state contractors responsible for their subcontractor’s safety training records.
“We train our workers. The training requirements is not the problem; it’s the paperwork requirements,” Jon Fisher, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas, said. “Sometimes the general contractor doesn’t even know all the sub-contractors on the site because they’re a subcontractor for another subcontractor.”
Non-profit organizations fighting for workers’ rights and unions disagree.
“We look out for every worker, whether they’re in a union or not, and we think everyone should be protected,” Joe Cooper, of Plumbers and Pipefitters, said.
At the Capitol, protesters of all ages, from all backgrounds, stood in solidarity for construction worker safety.
House Bill 863 was left pending in the committee of Business and Industry, and so far, has not advanced since the bill’s public hearing.
The march began at the J.J. Pickle Federal Building on 8th Street, and the protesters marched down Congress Ave. to the Capitol.