- In response to an above-average rate of construction worker fatalities, Harris County, Texas — which includes Houston — has adopted a new policy in an attempt to make jobsites safer.
- The new policy states that employees and managers overseeing manual construction work on county projects must have OSHA safety training for hazards, and that their companies must pay for that training.
- The change was announced Jan. 10 and goes into effect in March. It affects jobs with a total contract value of at least $500,000 and subcontracts with a value of at least $50,000.
The new policy also prohibits contractors from winning county work if they have been convicted of a crime following a worker death or injury, landed on OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program list or faced OSHA fines for egregious disregard for worker safety.
In 2021, 157 construction workers died on the job in Texas, more than two a week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Across the country, construction workers have died on the job at a rate of 10 per 100,000 for the past decade.
“For far too long, our area here has had a high death rate in the construction industry that has been unchanged,” said Paul Puente, executive secretary of the Houston Gulf Coast Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents over 20 unions in the region.
The lack of requirements for OSHA training are unique to Texas, Puente said. Texas is well-known for having employer-friendly policies. Puente said that contractors that don’t prioritize training can experience drops in safety.
In pursuing the new policy, Puente said interested parties and government officials looked to cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City to figure out how to protect more workers.
“With this policy, Harris County is championing a culture of safety on its construction projects,” said Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, in a statement emailed to Construction Dive. “This is about saving lives, increasing quality of life for workers, and ensuring companies that do business with Harris County are taking the necessary steps to protect their workers.”