Federal law would require breaks for construction workers


DALLAS — Only two cities in Texas have a rest break ordinance. In July, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, presented to Congress the Construction Injury Prevention Act. The law would require employers to offer a 15-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked.

Between 2011 and 2019 there were 38 fatalities related to the heat while at a worksite.

Nicolas Marco has worked in construction for over a decade and said he often questions whether employers are aware they should be given a rest break or if they just chose not to.

“One takes [working in] the extreme heat out of necessity,” Marco said in Spanish.

Marco added there’s a fear of being fired from a job and the pressure to increase productivity. He recalled a colleague becoming ill while working due to the heat.

“He didn’t look OK and began stumbling,” said Marco, “I grabbed him and helped sit him down. He began to vomit.”

The employer allegedly told Marco that they had deadlines to meet and to continue working while his colleague took a short break.

Experiences like this are not uncommon, according to Aracely Garcia with the Workers Defense Project.

“Some companies don’t provide rest breaks. I believe it was about 40% of Texas workers report that they aren’t given rest breaks,” Garcia said.

According to the Texas Department of Insurance, in 2011 at least 211 worker compensation requests were due to heat-related injuries and illness. The number only reflects the employers with a state-regulated workers’ compensation policy.

“We think by making it a law more people will obviously be aware, employers will have to abide by the law,” Garcia said.

If the Construction Injury Prevention Act is approved it would prohibit employer retaliation for employees taking paid rest breaks and require employers to notify their staff of their right to a required paid rest break. Also, the law would have to be posted in English and Spanish.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, three out of four fatalities happen during the first week of work. During 2015 to 2020, OSHA conducted 200 heat-related inspections each year. The number of heat-related fatalities may be underreported due to the cause of death often listed by a medical examiner is heart attack.

 

To date, Dallas and Austin are the only cities in the state to have a break ordinance in place. Individuals whose companies are not adhering to this in these cities can contact 311 and report their employer.

“We need teachers who are outside with kids, we need maintenance folks, operations folks, so although people might feel like it doesn’t affect them in some way, it actually does. It’s just maybe a little further removed then you might have to think about daily,” said Garcia.

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