It’s blistering hot, but Texas workers have lost the right to water breaks

Children and animals shouldn’t be left in hot, locked cars. Broken air conditioners can turn houses and apartments into blast furnaces. Routine sporting events or manual work outside can be deadly if the person isn’t properly hydrated or rested.

Extreme heat is dangerous, yet with his signature on House Bill 2127, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott overturned local laws mandating water and heat breaks for construction workers. It is the latest fallout from the governor and the GOP-controlled Legislature’s ongoing assault on the authority of local cities and counties to regulate.

We warned against such consequences when a slew of such bills surfaced in Austin to bar local governments from writing laws that impact the Agriculture, Finance, Labor, Natural Resources or Occupations codes. The impact on construction workers is one of the first and most obvious repercussions.

In 2015, Dallas followed the lead of Austin, passing an ordinance to require that construction workers are provided a 10-minute break every four hours to drink water and get out of the sun. According to a study by the University of Texas at Austin at the time, nearly one-third of Dallas construction workers didn’t receive rest breaks, and nearly half of workers reported that their employer failed to provide drinking water on the job.

Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that companies implement measures to protect people who work exposed to the sun. This includes providing lots of drinking water, which restores electrolytes to the body, and offering rest in shaded areas to lower body temperature. The medical consequences of overheating are beyond dispute.

Heat causes more deaths in the United States each year than any other extreme weather. Heat stroke and other heat-related injuries can cause permanent damage. A person is especially vulnerable when his or her body temperature rises to 106 degrees within 10 to 15 minutes, a dangerous condition that can cause confusion, loss of consciousness, abundant sweat, seizures and slurred speech.

The construction industry continues to contend that mandated rest-break ordinances could open employers to false complaints. The problem is that construction workers are among the most vulnerable workers in America.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t require water breaks for workers to allow state and local governments to determine the specifics. However, OSHA has been working on heat-related rules to provide some federal protection to outdoor and indoor workers and currently recommends that employers provide cool water and electrolyte beverages like sports drinks for any job longer than two hours. Locally, OSHA is teaming with Dallas’ Mexican Consulate to inform workers and employers about workers’ rights, especially those in construction and general industries that employ many Mexican citizens or workers who primarily speak Spanish.

Construction is a dangerous industry, and extreme heat adds another risk. Workers deserve a safe workplace, and their employers owe it to their workers to follow commonsense heat safety measures, including regular water breaks.

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