Texas Workers’ Compensation Opt-Out Law Shifts Economic Burden of Workplace Accidents to Workers and Their Families
May 1st is Workers’ Memorial Day, and we have much to remember here in Texas. A new Report Finds Construction Injuries and Fatalities Cost Texas Nearly $900 Million Annually
Injuries and fatalities in the construction industry cost Texas an estimated $895.9 million in 2013 alone with workers and their families footing an estimated $447.9 million of the bill, a new Public Citizen and Workers Defense Project report (PDF) shows.
The report, “The Price of Inaction: The Cost of Construction Injuries in the Lone Star State,” quantifies the estimated costs of deaths, injuries and illnesses in the state’s construction industry. The release coincides with Workers’ Memorial Day, a time when labor advocates pause to commemorate those who lost their lives on the job and who suffer from debilitating work-related injuries or illnesses.
In 2013, Texas recorded approximately 5,600 construction industry injuries and illnesses, which required workers to take time off of work to recover. Additionally, 116 Texas construction workers lost their lives during that time.
The report also finds that people of color and immigrants experience disproportionate rates of work-related fatalities in Texas’ construction industry. In 2013, about two out of every three construction workers killed in Texas were Latino. In addition, from 2012 to 2013, fatalities among foreign-born construction workers in the state increased at a much higher rate (47 percent) than the total number of construction worker fatalities during that time (11 percent).
“Our research indicates a pervasive crisis in the Texas construction industry, which unduly burdens people of color, immigrant workers and their families,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Texas lawmakers should immediately enact safeguards protecting construction workers from unsafe worksites.”
“Texas’ construction industry is generating more than $74 billion a year,” said José P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project. “There’s no excuse for the industry to shift the cost of dangerous worksites from employers to injured workers, their families and taxpayers.”
Texas’ misleadingly named “opt out” system, which does not require employers to purchase workers compensation insurance, shifts the costs of injuries and fatalities from employers onto workers. Without a basic social safety net that includes workers’ compensation, construction workers and their families are left without wages while they recover from injuries and struggle to pay high medical bills and other expenses.
To address this problem, Workers Defense Project and Public Citizen recommend Texas lawmakers make several reforms to increase safety for employees. The report calls on the Texas Legislature to:
- Require that all construction employers purchase workers’ compensation coverage for all employees;
- Require that all contractors on publicly funded or publicly subsidized construction sites complete a workplace health and safety prequalification process;
- Establish a Texas Council on Construction Safety and Health;
- Pass a statewide policy establishing a rest break standard for construction workers; and
- Require or incentivize participation in respected third party certification programs like the Better Builder Program.