Outdoor workers suffering the effects of heat illnesses is a national problem every summer, but it’s especially bad here in Texas. According to a recent investigative report, at least 53 workers have died of heat stroke and related illnesses in Texas since 2010. That figure, which researchers believe undercounts the actual number but is the most accurate they can find, is twice the number of heat-related workplace deaths than there were over the previous decade.
Employers don’t protect their workers from the summer sun
A big part of the problem is employers who require their people to work outside in the often brutal summer heat but don’t do much to protect their crews from the effects. They do not provide air-conditioned areas for workers to take breaks in, supply enough cold drinks, or give trainings to help workers know what the symptoms of heat illness are and what to do when they start feeling sick.
These are violations of workplace safety rules, but Texas employers often get away with them. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a hard time imposing serious punishments under the current rules. Often, the best OSHA can do when it catches a construction company or other outdoor business letting its workers get heat illnesses is try to retrain the employers.
OSHA’s training often changes nothing for workers
That training does little when the employer fails to take the danger seriously. A few years ago, a 30-year-old man died of heatstroke while working at a construction site in Fort Worth. After that, OSHA met with executives at Hellas Construction Inc., the company the man worked for, to discuss heat safety strategies.
But in the three months after the man died, 11 more workers suffered heat-related illnesses severe enough to need medical attention. The following summer, another Hellas worker died.
Besides workers’ compensation death benefits, a grieving family in San Antonio might have another option: a lawsuit against the employer.