Breaks for con­struc­tion work­ers

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

The City Coun­cil is con­sid­er­ing an or­di­nance re­quir­ing con­struc­tion com­pa­nies to give work­ers rest breaks. We need this or­di­nance.

As a Uni­ver­sity of Texas fac­ulty mem­ber, I helped run a re­search project that sur­veyed 312 con­struc­tion work­ers in Austin, the largest study of its kind. Us­ing rig­or­ous re­search pro­ce­dures, we found that 41 per­cent of work­ers did not re­ceive rest breaks; 27 per­cent did not even get drink­ing wa­ter. It is no won­der that a con­struc­tion worker dies ev­ery 2.5 days in Texas.

With­out a law re­quir­ing rest breaks, un­scrupu­lous em­ploy­ers will con­tinue push­ing work­ers be­yond safe lim­its. Many com­pa­nies al­ready give work­ers reg­u­lar breaks; by pass­ing an anti-ex­haus­tion law, we en­sure that un­scrupu­lous em­ploy­ers do not gain un­fair ad­van­tage.

City in­spec­tors al­ready visit con­struc­tion sites. Adding rest breaks to their check­lists will not un­duly bur­den the city. Com­mon sense and ba­sic hu­man dig­nity tell us we need this or­di­nance.

Rich hey­man depart­ment of geog­ra­phy and the en­vi­ron­ment

uni­ver­sity of texas hey­man@mail.utexas.edu

austin

Re: July 6 ed­i­to­rial “La­bor­ers need ef­fec­tive pro­tec­tion.”

You sug­gest that the city would in­vite a chal­lenge from the fed­eral govern­ment if it passed an or­di­nance re­quir­ing em­ploy­ers to give work­ers short breaks to drink wa­ter and seek re­lief from ex­treme weather. In fact, the Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently con­firmed in a meet­ing with city rep­re­sen­ta­tives that the pro­posed or­di­nance would not “run afoul” of OSHA be­cause the agency does not reg­u­late rest breaks. Un­der fed­eral law, that leaves lo­cal gov­ern­ments free to adopt their own rules, and many lo­cal gov­ern­ments have done so.

Com­mon sense might re­quire rest breaks and wa­ter in our sum­mer heat, but 41 per­cent of Austin con­struc­tion work­ers sur­veyed by the Work­ers De­fense Project do not re­ceive rest breaks, and nearly one-third are not pro­vided drink­ing wa­ter. The city can and should in­sist that Austin’s work­ers have enough time to drink the wa­ter that all em­ploy­ers must pro­vide un­der fed­eral law.

aLi­cia BuT­LeR le­gal coun­sel, Worker’s de­fense Project abut­ler@tx­tort.com

austin

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