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Texas Construction Workers Fight For Access to Drinking Water and Brief Rest Breaks

Construction workers in Texas went to Dallas City Hall and asked for an ordinance mandating rest and water breaks for people who work construction jobs, reported ABC News affiliate WFAA (9.3.14).

The ordinance would require construction companies to provide:

  • 10 minutes of rest for every four hours of work
  • Access to drinking water
  • Meaningful penalties for violators

Average high temperatures in Dallas, Texas can reach into the 90’s during the summer months. In high heat, and even in less extreme temperatures, those who spend time outdoors must stay properly hydrated, especially workers. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) agree that workers need to be kept well hydrated and be allowed to take rest breaks as protection when working in hot environments. When a person’s body is unable to maintain a normal temperature, heat-related illnesses can occur. Heat-related illnesses include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death.

According to WFAA, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin interviewed construction workers in Dallas and found:

  • 1-in-3 reported getting no rest breaks
  • 2-in-3 reported they were not provided drinking water

Heat-related illnesses can be prevented. As OSHA says, three simple words: water, rest, shade can mean the difference between life and death. OSHA recommends that each worker drink one cup of water every 15 minutes, even if they are not thirsty. Drinking water frequently, even before becoming thirsty, helps the body maintain good hydration. Workers also need to take regular rest breaks in a shaded or air conditioned area.

OSHA says that thousands of employees who work in the heat become sick each year. In 2012, there were 31 heat-related worker deaths and 4,120 heat-related worker illnesses.

In Texas, New York and every other state, employees have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their workers with working conditions that are free of known dangers. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for raising a health and safety concern, reporting an injury, or otherwise exercising their rights under the law.

To prevent heat illness, all workers and supervisors should be trained about heat illness prevention. Employers should provide access to water and encourage workers to drink it often. Employers should also provide shade and encourage employees to take breaks, as needed.

The ABC News report cited is “Construction workers demand brief breaks from heat.”


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