Worker safety bill to be heard Tuesday
Austin – The Texas Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee will hear Sen José Rodríguez’s SB 473, which requires that workers in dangerous industries be given potentially life-saving rest breaks. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday (April 11, 2017), and can be viewed live via http://www.senate.texas.gov/av-live.php
SB 473 would require all construction workers in the state to be provided a 15-minute rest break for every four hours of work. A 2013 study by Workers Defense Project, in collaboration with UT Austin, found that 41 percent of construction workers surveyed do not receive such rest breaks.
“With Texas’ tremendous summer heat, denying regular breaks can be deadly,” Sen. Rodríguez said. “In fiscal year 2016 alone, at least four Texas workers died on the job due to heat-related illnesses.”
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has investigated multiple heat-related deaths in Texas, showing a pattern of unsafe working conditions in high-heat environments. Construction workers who perform physically demanding work in the heat are especially at risk.
Some recent heat-related construction deaths in Texas include:
- In July 2016, masonry worker Thomas Ayala died of heat stress on a construction site in Yoakum, and in April 2016, Eduardo Garcia died from heat exposure while framing a roof in San Antonio
- In July 2015, 25-year-old flooring worker Roendy Granillo died of heat stroke in Melissa while working 14-16 hour days without breaks.
- In July 2011, a bricklayer in Beaumont collapsed and died of cardiac arrest caused by heat exhaustion.
SB 473 is modeled after city ordinances in Austin and Dallas requiring 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work. Austin officials said employers generally comply and fewer workers complain about not getting breaks.
Some details on SB 473:
- Requires construction employers provide a 15-minute break for every four hours of work, not including a separate meal break;
- Provides that if employers fail to provide these rest breaks, employees can file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). If TWC finds the employer violated the rest break requirement and does not correct the violation within 30 days, TWC may assess an administrative penalty.
- Requires employers provide notice to employees that they are entitled to these rest breaks and that they can file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission.
- Prohibits retaliation by an employer if an employee requests or takes a rest break or files a complaint with TWC.
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair).