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AGC Safety Committee Visits with Austin City Rest Break Compliance Inspector

This past week, the Austin Chapter AGC Safety Committee visited with Marco Ramos, who was recently hired to enforce the City of Austin's rest break ordinance for construction workers.  Ramos discussed his new compliance role and said he proactively visits sites and also responds to complaints lodged via the City's 311 phone system.  Typically, the first thing he looks for on site is the required signage to be posted per the ordinance.  He also talks with workers about rest breaks and water availability.  He can issue citations for failure to post signage or allow breaks.  Ramos said there is good news in that he is seeing 90% and higher compliance thus far on Austin's commercial jobsites.

Since enactment of the rest break ordinance in 2010, the Austin AGC has consistently expressed concerns about the challenges of enforcement, however well-intentioned the ordinance may be.  The Austin AGC obviously and strongly supports rest breaks for workers, particularly in the extreme heat, but recognizes the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – the main federal agency charged with enforcing worker safety laws – does not explicitly require rest breaks on construction sites.  With regard to heat stress, for example, OSHA recommends there be a knowledgeable person at the worksite able to modify work activities and the work/rest schedule as needed.

Further, 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.

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