Death on the Job: Texas Says “NO” To Water Breaks in the Heat
West Texas heat is deadly. It seems to be getting worse year after year.
Texas has been experiencing record heat waves this week. Working outside when the heat index is above 110 is deadly. According to data analysis by The Texas Tribune, last year in Texas, there were 279 heat-related deaths in the state, the most since 1999.
This seems like the perfect time for the State of Texas to pass laws mandating water breaks for workers required to work in the heat. Yet, this week Governor Abbott signed a law doing just the opposite.
The Governor signed House Bill 2127, which will go into effect on September 1. This bill will nullify any local city ordinances that require water breaks for employees who work in the heat and prevent any local jurisdiction in the state from passing such laws in the future.
This law has been called the "Death Star" law because it prevents any local city or county government in the state from passing laws that contradict anything in Texas state code in areas like agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, local government, natural resources, occupations, and poverty.
The same state officials who scream "foul" whenever the federal government passes laws that they say trample on state's rights to govern themselves has basically stripped every local government in the state from passing laws for their local communities.
Not only does this "Death Star" law prevent future local laws to protect workers, but nullifies ordinances already passed by Dallas and Austin to mandate water breaks for construction workers in hot weather.
Meanwhile, heat-related deaths on construction sites have doubled in the last ten years.
This problem is particularly bad for Latinos. They represent six out of every ten construction workers, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
Supporters of the law say the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration already guarantees a safe labor environment for construction workers. OSHA, however, does not have a national standard for heat-related illnesses and issues citations for over-exposure to heat only AFTER an injury or death.
Deaths on Texas worksites have increased in recent years. On September 28, 2021, Antelmo Ramirez worked on the Texas Gigafactory outside of Austin. Antelmo was a father and grandfather. Antelmo died of heat exhaustion, leaving a grieving family. Because the factory is outside the city limits of Austin, they were not subject to Austin's water break law. Antelmo Ramirez may have died as a result.
Sadly, his story is not an isolated incident. This new Texas law may mean even more needless deaths.
This so-called "Death Star" law has some other terrible potential consequences. It makes it nearly impossible for local cities and counties to protect tenants facing eviction or to prevent companies from predatory lending practices.
This new law will undoubtedly lead to the deaths of innocent workers in Texas who work hard to support their families.
While we all want our business community to flourish and provide opportunities for good-paying jobs in Texas, is it not unreasonable for us to expect reasonable safeguards for our workers? In a state that so vigorously stands for state rights, what about the rights of local communities to create laws to govern themselves?
No one should have to die a preventable death, so someone else can profit from it. Making it mandatory for workers to stay hydrated should be automatic. Unfortunately, it is not.
Now, thanks to this new Texas law, local communities won't even legally be able to do anything about it.