By James Thompson
HOUSTON – Texas leads the nation in construction worker deaths. Federal statistics indicate that 142 construction workers died in Texas in 2007. On June 10th, three more workers plunged to their deaths from a high-rise condo in Austin, the state’s capitol.
Why did these workers die? They were working on the 11th floor of a multi-million dollar condo project without safety harnesses. The Austin nonprofit Worker’s Defense Project has found that one in five construction workers in Austin had been injured on the job and 64 percent had received no safety training.
Why is it that Texas has the highest number of worker fatalities in the nation? The high worker fatalities are because there is little or no safety training, lax regulations and a lack of enforcement of federal safety regulation. Texas has only 77 OSHA inspectors to cover the entire state and this is the second lowest number of inspectors in the nation after Florida. It should be pointed out that Texas and Florida both have the distinction of having recent governors by the name of Bush.
Texas is also the only state in the nation where Worker’s Compensation is optional.
An article in the Observer highlights the death of a 19-year-old worker, Omar Puerto, in Austin on Oct. 23, 2006. He was electrocuted on the job and his family maintains he had received no safety training.
Puerto was an immigrant from Honduras who found work in the booming Texas construction industry. He sent $1200 a month home to Honduras to his family to help build a home in Honduras. He returned home in a casket.
The Observer article points out that a construction worker dies every 2 ½ days in Texas. No other state has as many construction-related deaths.
The company, Gutter Tech, which provided no safety training or fiberglass ladders which would have prevented Puerto’s death, was fined $4950 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Administation (OSHA). His family was billed for $8000 in hospital bills for the autopsy and ambulance ride. Gutter Tech paid $5000 to have his body returned to his parents in Honduras.
The Observer article comments: “Safety inspections were a casualty of the government-shrinking ideology that prevailed in Washington following Ronald Reagan’s election until the current economic crisis. Especially during George W. Bush’s administration, the emphasis shifted from enforcement to voluntary compliance. Meanwhile, the ranks of OSHA inspectors have been thinning for years. In 1980, there were 1,469 – 14.9 per million workers. By 2007, there were just 948 OSHA inspectors nationwide-6.4 for every million workers, the lowest level in the agency’s history.”
A Houston trade unionist comments: “Just in the last month and a half, Houston saw three workers who lost their lives because they were sent into dangerous situations without training and without safety equipment. Hispanic workers have the highest rates of injury and death. It is the same old story: no workers’ compensation, no safety training and an attitude that workers are expendable or not quite human.”
[Safety rights were never given by employers,but always came from the class struggle. Study it on this site.]