Building Injustice Indeed

From crane and scaffold failures to heavy equipment accidents and electrical malfunctions, construction site workers face unsafe work conditions on a daily basis. Slack Davis Sanger supports the findings in Building Austin, Building Injustice, a 68-page study about poor working conditions in Austin’s construction industry, sponsored by the Workers Defense Project in collaboration with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

This report is especially timely – released just days after three construction workers died in a scaffold accident on an Austin construction site. Two of the workers fell 11 to 13 stories while the third fell a shorter distance onto the roof of a seven-story parking garage.

Based on cases reviewed and handled by Slack Davis Sanger, scaffold failures occur far too frequently. According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, formerly known as The Center to Protect Workers’ Rights (CPWR), each year more than 60 workers are killed by falls from scaffolds, which is about 20 percent of the construction industry’s fatal falls. Causes range from poorly constructed scaffolds to poor or nonexistent safety training. I invite you to learn more about proper scaffold safety in Scaffold Safety Hazard Alert , published by the CPWR.

Building Austin, Building Injustice outlines these key findings about local construction site workers and working conditions:

  • Poverty level wages. Forty-five percent of surveyed construction workers earned poverty level wages. In addition, nearly half of construction workers reported not having enough financial resources to support their families.
  • Failure to be paid. One in five workers reported being denied payment for their construction work in Austin.
  • Fifty percent of construction workers reported not being paid overtime, and for many this resulted in the inability to pay for food and housing.
  • Few employment benefits. The large majority of construction workers lacked health insurance (76%), pensions (81%), sick days (87%) or vacation days (77%).
  • High rates of dangerous and unsafe working conditions. One in five surveyed construction workers has suffered a workplace injury that required medical attention. Sixty-four percent of surveyed workers lacked basic health and safety training, and many were forced to provide their own safety equipment (47% of residential construction workers provided their own hard hats).
  • Death on the job. In 2007, 142 construction workers died in Texas, more than any other state in the country.
  • Denied legal protections. Employers frequently misclassified workers as independent contractors instead of employees, thus stripping them of their rights to overtime pay, workers’ compensation coverage, benefits, and shifting the burden of payroll taxes to the worker. Survey results showed that 38% of construction workers were misclassified as independent contractors.
  • The study asserts that general contractors and developers have a particularly important role to play as industry trendsetters by ensuring safe and humane working conditions on their worksites.

The full study is available online.

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