At the beginning of last month, a construction worker was found dead on a construction site off of San Antonio Street downtown. He was found near the bathrooms of the new high rise, and the cause is still under investigation.
Less than a week and a half later, a separate incident occurred. Another construction worker at the site of the new Pflugerville High School in North Austin fell roughly 12 feet. The fall victim was a subcontractor helping to build the new high school.
And during the last week of February, yet another construction worker fell from the fourth floor of a new hotel off of Ranch Road 2222 in West Austin. The fall was approximately a 40-foot drop, and the worker suffered from serious, possibly life-threatening injuries.
This totals three construction site accidents occurred with workers from three separate construction companies in less than one month. Why are fall accidents on construction sites on the rise in Austin? In a previous blog, we speculated that Austin’s construction boom may be causing an increase in the number of construction accidents. Unfortunately, it seems we may be right. In spite of the technology we have available to help prevent workplace accidents, Austin construction sites seem to be less safe today than a decade ago when the pace of construction was par with a relatively low demand.
What is the Workers Defense Project?
Fortunately, the Texas Workers Defense Project was created more than 15 years ago. Initially, this project focused on recovering wages for undocumented or underpaid employees. Soon, however, the project turned towards construction worker safety when it became clear workers were underpaid and put at risk.
In 2010, the Workers Defense Project broke ground with a report called “Build a Better Austin,” which incited Austin City Council to pass an ordinance requiring construction workers to take rest breaks during their shift. The report also found high injury rates, lack of training and lack of health insurance coverage for on-the-job injuries. Soon after the report, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) turned its sights to Texas. In two weeks, it issued more than $2 million in fines for more than 1,500 citations. The Workers Defense Project has also pressured several major developers in Austin, including Gables Residential in downtown Austin (which is a billion-dollar company), to create fair and safer working conditions for those who work on construction sites.
The City of Austin Needs to Do More to Regulate Construction Site Safety
When a construction accident occurs, OSHA sends an investigator to make sure safety standards are being upheld. If that is not the case, OSHA will fine a construction development company. However, this is a slap on the wrist when compared to the types of serious accidents and falls construction workers have experienced this month alone.
It is up to the city to pass laws to better regulate safety standards. Just because the city is experiencing a rapid expansion does not mean construction companies are given a free pass to skimp on safety and put construction workers at risk. Considering the expansion of our city is so vital, we should really try to remember Austin would not able to grow without construction workers. We need to do a better job of protecting them.
Aaron Allison is a personal injury attorney in Austin, Texas who fights for workers who have been injured in construction accidents.