TX Introduces Construction Injury Prevention Act
To help address heat-related illness and death among construction workers, Texas Representative Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) recently filed the Construction Injury Prevention Act.
If passed, the new legislation would require U.S. construction employers to allow workers at least one paid 15-minute rest break every four hours. These new measures would be practiced year-round.
“It’s no secret the job of building America is a dangerous one,” said Jeremy Hendricks, Assistant Business Manager, Southwest Laborers District Council – LIUNA, in response to the legislation. “Sadly, construction workers suffer death and injuries from extreme temperatures every day in all corners of this country, so we must take this important step to protect our construction workforce.”
Recent Heat Protections
Earlier this year, in April, Secretary Marty Walsh and Vice President Kamala Harris introduced a National Emphasis Program to better protect workers from heat illness and injuries. The legislation was first announced at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 Training Center in Philadelphia.
“Tragically, the three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s. These extreme heat hazards aren’t limited to outdoor occupations, the seasons or geography,” said Secretary Walsh at the time. “From farm workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness—exacerbated by our climate’s rising temperatures—presents a growing hazard for millions of workers.
“This enforcement program is another step towards our goal of a federal heat standard. Through this work, we’re also empowering workers with knowledge of their rights, especially the right to speak up about their safety without fear of retaliation. I’m grateful for the Vice President’s leadership on this issue, and for her demonstrated commitment to keeping workers safe on the job.”
A press release issued by the DOL went on to further explain that as the National Emphasis Program works to immediately improve enforcement and compliance efforts, there are ongoing efforts to establish a heat illness prevention rule.
While that long-term work continues, the program will initiate inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area.
However, on days when the heat index is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists are to engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance. Regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the NEP, inspectors will also look for an address heat hazards.
OSHA has also developed a free and confidential health and safety consulting program, which has been made available to small- and medium-sized businesses working to develop strategic approaches for addressing heat-related illnesses and injuries in workplaces.
As part of OSHA’s continued work to reduce workplace heat illnesses and fatalities, the agency held a public stakeholder meeting on May 3 to discuss OSHA’s ongoing activities to protect workers from heat-related hazards, including the Heat Illness Prevention Campaign, compliance assistance activities and enforcement efforts.
Prior to the latest announcement of a National Emphasis Program, OSHA made it a common practice of releasing reminders and warnings about heat-related injury and illness throughout the years.
In addition to the efforts made by the federal government and the Administration, some places took heat illness prevention a step further. In June, new legislation in California looked at setting new heat protections for employees working in “ultrahigh” heat and wildfire smoke outdoors.
If passed, Assembly Bill 2243 would require California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to consider revisiting the heat illness standard for workers when outdoor temperatures exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Currently, the California Department of Industrial Relations lays out specific workers’ rights regarding outdoor work and heat illness prevention in temperatures exceeding 95 F.
While the plan follows Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Regulation, the new bill is seeking revisions to include an ultrahigh heat standard for employees in outdoor places of employment for heat more than 105 F, as prescribed, and require employers to distribute copies of the Heat Illness Prevention Plan to employees when they are first hired and when temperatures first exceed 80 F, or on an annual basis.
That same month, it was announced by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that Marta Segura, Director of the Office of Climate Emergency Mobilization, would also hold the newly created position as Chief Heat Officer for the city.
In her new role, Segura will work with different city agencies to create a heat action plan that includes an early warning system, a response plan to mobilize different agencies and strategies to reduce extreme heat exposure.
In 2019, a Florida lawmaker introduced a bill that would set a statewide standard for those working outdoors in relation to heat illness prevention.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando), would mandate that workers be given plenty of drinking water, access to shade and 10-minute rest breaks enforced after every two hours of outside labor.
In addition to access to water, shade and breaks, the Florida House bill, and its companion bill in the state Senate, would also require training to spot signs of heat exhaustion and an acclimatization period for workers.
While OSHA had guidelines and recommendations to avoid heat hazards, there is was set standard for heat exposure. The lack of a standard was called to task in 2018 with a petition backed by more than 130 industry organizations.
Led by nonprofit Public Citizen, the petition called for OSHA to do more than just point to suggested guidelines provided by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and argued that, as the climate changes, workers are experiencing more and more heat stress every year, which can take a dangerous toll on the body.
According to the government, 69,374 workers were seriously injured from heat between 1992 and 2016, and 783 U.S. workers died from heat exposure. By combining climate projects and census data, Public Citizen concluded that, by 2050, more than 1 million agriculture and construction workers will experience 30 days or more of dangerous heat per year.
While OSHA endorses NIOSH’s criteria, it has never created a nationally enforceable rule requiring employers to provide water, rest, shade and, more specifically, acclimatization programs or training to recognize symptoms of heat illness.
OSHA does provide visual indicators for heat index levels, which are the baselines for the NIOSH guidelines. However, those levels were also put under the magnifying glass last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees NIOSH.
In August 2018, the CDC released findings from a study that determined whether the heat index limits are effective in protecting workers. The CDC retrospectively reviewed 25 outdoor occupational heat-related illnesses—14 fatal, 11 nonfatal—investigated by OSHA from 2011 to 2016.
Research found that heat stress exceeded exposure limits in all 14 fatalities and in eight of the 11 nonfatal illnesses.
At the time, OSHA recommended using the heat index to protect workers, and separates temperatures into four categories:
What’s Happening Now
In a press release issued by Congresswoman Garcia, it was noted from the results of a recent industry survey that nearly 39% of workers in Texas don’t receive rest breaks. Additionally, it was discovered that Houston has more than a quarter-million construction workers laboring in the region.
“As an elected official, I introduced this bill to protect the construction workers who are building a better America across our nation and the Houston region,” said Garcia. “I’ve heard far too many horror stories from workers who have been seriously injured due to employers not allowing rest breaks. These cruel business practices hurt minorities and Latino communities, like those in my district, the most. These are essential workers who contribute massively to our economy and infrastructure, and they must be protected with paid rest breaks.”
In her bill, Garcia explains that the Construction Injury Prevention Act (CIPA) aims to protect construction workers by mandating paid 15-minute breaks for every four hours of work completed. In addition, the CIPA aims to:
“Workers Defense members led the fight at the local level in Austin and Dallas, in 2010 and 2015, respectively, to pass Rest Break Ordinances that guarantee construction workers water breaks in lieu of federal law,” said Lizeth Chacón, Co-Executive Director, Workers Defense Project & Workers Defense Action Fund.
“These local policies are now serving as a model for what the federal government can do to protect construction workers across the country. We thank Congresswoman Garcia for her leadership on this issue and meeting the critical moment we are in as more workers’ lives are threatened by the impact of climate change and the death toll not having a rest break takes on construction workers and their families.”