An extensive report released yesterday by The Dallas Morning News used federal workplace data to determine that a worker in Texas is 12 percent more likely to die on the job in Texas than he or she would be doing the same work in any other state.
One of the driving forces of Texas’s economy, construction, is also one of its deadliest. A construction worker in Texas is 22 percent more likely to be killed on site than his or her counterpart in any other state. According to The Morning News, the reasons behind this are varied, but include the use of untrained undocumented laborers and the fact that Texas is one of the most difficult states to organize a union in, which leads to lax workplace safety.
Texas also has no state-level occupational safety inspection agency, instead relying on the overtaxed federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to oversee workplace conditions.
The situation is made even more difficult to manage given the use of second-tier subcontractors. Many payroll and safety protections end with the first-tier subcontractors, i.e. the people hired by the general contractor to perform tasks on a particular site. But any subcontractors hired by those first-tier subcontractors are essentially unprotected — and the fine for violations involving second-tier subcontractors is only $200.
University of Texas law professor Thomas McGarity told The Morning News that “[t]here’s a Wild West culture here. We don’t want some nanny state telling workers how to work and, by implication, telling employers how to manage the workplace.”
Over the course of the past decade, this “Wild West culture” has led to 580 more workplace deaths.
The press secretary for Governor Rick Perry (R) responded to The Morning News in a statement, saying that “Texas takes the safety of employees very seriously, and the state has a number of services and incentives in place to encourage safe workplaces. Through the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC), Texas offers many free and low-cost workplace safety and health services and resources to all Texas employers and employees, regardless of whether the employer has workers’ compensation insurance, including regional and statewide safety training seminars and conferences, on-site safety training to employers, workplace hazard assessments, 24-hour safety hotline, and OSHA compliance assistance consultations.”
[“Construction worker” on Shutterstock]