Workers sacrifice a lot for their jobs. They give their time and effort. They often travel long distances to get to work. Unfortunately, many also give their lives. On an average day, 13 workers die on the job in the United States.
The Dallas Morning News reported in 2014 that workers in Texas are “12% more likely to be killed on the job than someone doing the same job elsewhere.” In construction, workers are 22% more likely to die on the job than workers nationally.
Why are our workers at such a risk for workplace injuries and deaths? There are many explanations, perhaps the most convincing of which was offered by David Michaels, head of OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) from 2009 to 2017. In 2014, Michaels said that Texas construction companies had a lax safety culture when it came to protecting workers. Part of that culture is defined by a shift in the way workers are classified, which has ramifications on workplace safety.
Understanding Hazards Facing Construction Workers
There are several factors at play in the high number of construction worker injuries and fatalities in Texas. Texas has experienced significant growth in recent years, which means there are more construction sites popping up across the state.
To meet the increased demand and save on costs, construction companies often use immigrant workers. These workers are classified as contractors and, thus, they are typically not given the same safety training as construction workers who are classified as employees or workers who belong to a union. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that immigrant workers, particularly Latinos, are nearly 18% more likely to die on the job than other workers. When companies fail to adequately train workers, they create an environment that is unsafe for everyone on a construction site, including undocumented workers and employees.
Unsafe construction sites are more likely to present certain risks to workers, most notably fall risks. Aside from transportation-related accidents, falls are the leading cause of injuries and death among construction workers. Scaffolding collapses, falls from roofs, unsecure harnesses – these are all factors that lead to serious fall-related injuries.
Other Dangerous Jobs in Texas
Construction workers aren’t the only ones susceptible to serious workplace injuries. The oil boom, which was especially prevalent in Texas from 2003 to 2013, brought with it a 26% increase in the number of oil and gas extraction worker fatalities. Around 40% of those deaths were transportation related, while another quarter stemmed from contact with objects and equipment.
Workers in agriculture, forestry, and fishing experience high rates of on-the-job injuries, surpassing those in construction and oil and gas extraction. Many of the labor problems that plague the construction industry are even more prominent in agriculture. Workers are often paid under the table, misclassified as contractors, and given little to no safety training.
Manufacturing jobs are also some of the most dangerous in Texas. The rate of injuries in food manufacturing, such as animal processing, dairy product manufacturing, and animal slaughtering greatly exceed the rate of injuries in most other industries.
A Lack of Oversight
You might have noticed a common theme in some of the industries listed above. The more obscure the hiring and training process is in an industry, the more likely workplace injuries and deaths are to occur. Consider the fact that states with weaker labor unions have higher death rates among workers. That’s because workers are given less safety training and more likely to be put in an unsafe work environment.
Texas is one of several states that has no statewide occupational safety inspection agency. Meanwhile, OSHA, the federal agency charged with overseeing workplace safety, is woefully understaffed. For example, OSHA inspectors have the capacity to inspect each workplace in the United States once every 159 years, according to the AFL-CIO. OSHA investigates less than half of all workplace deaths in Texas.
A Lack of Benefits
Texas is the only state in the country that lets employers opt-out of a state-run workers’ compensation system. Not all employers choose that route, but those that do deny workers key benefits that are designed to protect them from the incredible fallout of a workplace injury. Nearly half a million employees in Texas have no form of workers’ compensation coverage.
Workers that are classified as contractors rather than employees are offered less protection in the event of a workplace injury. They also receive lower wages, fewer benefits, and less safety training. In the trucking industry, for example, workers that once enjoyed high pay rates and favorable working conditions now shoulder more of their own costs, earn lower wages, and bear more liability in the event of a workplace accident.
Injured Workers Have Options
Workers are guaranteed the right to a safe workplace. If someone is injured on the job, even if they aren’t covered by workers’ compensation, they have the right to pursue compensation for the costs of their injuries. A worker has several options at their disposal. If a worker believes they have been misclassified as a contractor, they can attempt to prove that they are, in fact, an employee.
For some workers, Texas is indeed a dangerous state. The good news is that there are always legal options to explore in the wake of a serious on-the-job injury. When a worker is injured, they often face medical bills, lost wages, and lost work capacity. Pursuing compensation is the best path forward for someone who has had their lives disrupted by a workplace injury.
To schedule a free consultation with Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law, contact us today by filling out our online contact form or giving us a call at 1(800) 444-5000 or locally in the Houston area at (713) 973-8888.