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A Push for Mandatory Water Breaks for Construction Workers in Dallas

After successfully pushing for them in Austin, the Workers Defense Project is asking the City of Dallas to adopt an ordinance that would require contractors to give water breaks to construction workers.  It sounds like something that everyone should simply agree with but, as is often the case, the details are where the devil may reside.  Certainly no one would argue that workers should be denied water breaks.  Industry observers, however, have said that the enactment of an ordinance can open up the possibility that well-meaning businesses may be easily harassed by way of false reports.

Fox television in Dallas reports Workers Defense wants Big D to follow the lead of Austin and several other cities that have done something similar:

“About a third [of construction workers in Texas] report receiving no rest breaks during their work day, besides lunch.  Two-thirds say employers fail to provide drinking water at their worksites, and one out of 10 has seen a coworker faint on the job due to heat exhaustion.

“‘Rules don’t exist,’ said Father Joshua Whitfield with St. Rita’s Catholic Church.  ‘I mean, OSHA has recommendations for water consumption and breaks, but there are no federal state laws, and a city ordinance would be a stronger factor in creating this culture of safety and health in the Texas heat.’”

A noble goal to be sure and no one should downplay the reality of working in the hot Texas sun and the impact that can have on workers.  As AGC Austin President Phil Thoden wrote recently on Construction Citizen:

“As anyone in our industry can attest, rest breaks are inherent in the construction process.  If a worker needs water or a restroom break, they take it and do not have to wait for a group break prescribed at a certain time.  Also, workers are often on rest while waiting for delivery of supplies, or for completion of another's task before their own can be performed.

“We also have concerns that the ordinance can be used to simply harass certain contractors and projects in the City.  It is our understanding that the compliance position was created in response to concerns expressed by the City's Construction Advisory Council and other groups that only 35 rest break complaints were made to Austin officials from July 2011 to July 2012, and only one citation was actually issued.”

A Dallas city council committee received a briefing last month on what’s done in Austin, including:

  • 10 minutes of rest break for every four hours worked on a site.
     
  • Signage in English and Spanish on all worksites explaining the ordinance requirements.
     
  • Employers (subcontractors) receive fines of $100 to $500 for every day a violation occurs.

It seems the effort in Dallas is on a fast track.  The full council is expected to be briefed on the proposal later this month and it could receive a vote shortly after that.


Comments

Phil Thoden's picture

It is important to note that the City of Austin in 2014 has an inspector on staff specifically to enforce the rest break ordinance. He has (as of September) performed 65 inspections and found zero violations of employers failing to give rest breaks. He found 38 sites without required signage posted (along with all the other various signage required) and those were all corrected. I hope the Dallas City Council will take this data provided by the City of Austin staff into account when deciding whether a similar ordinance is necessary in Dallas or simply a solution in search of a problem.

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