Texas road construction workers face highest fatality rate in the nation

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In Texas, road construction workers face a higher fatality rate than in any other state, raising concerns about contractor accountability for accidents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 143 deaths occurred at Texas road construction sites over seven years ending in 2020. Investigative reporter Josephine Lee of the Texas Observer delved into the 2020 death of Juan Simental, who fell while working on a new toll road project. The contractor, hired by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), operated under its safety plan, a practice permitted in Texas and other states.

Lee’s investigation revealed that TxDOT repeatedly awarded contracts to the same equity group and its subsidiaries, despite a mounting toll of injuries. “While they’ve made millions from Texas highways, the injuries kept racking up,” Lee stated.

The AFL-CIO highlights that, over the past 50 years, there have been significant strides in improving working conditions and worker protections. However, this progress faces challenges due to growing employer opposition to workers’ rights and intensified attacks on unions.

Texas boasts over 50 toll roads, with more under construction by private contractors. In these public-private partnerships, design, construction, operation, and maintenance are managed by for-profit entities, leading to high tolls that many drivers choose to avoid.

Transportation activist Terri Hall, who has opposed toll roads since 2001, criticized this model. “These are so-called ‘privatized’ toll roads, but they’re taxpayer-backed. When traffic falls short, taxpayers, not companies, bear the costs,” Hall argued.

Lee pointed out that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is not a preventative agency and typically investigates only fatalities, not injuries. She raised concerns about Texas allowing private companies to self-report injuries, given their financial interests.

“How often does the state investigate? Are they maintaining safety records, especially in cases of severe injuries or deaths?” Lee questioned.

Following its probe into Simental’s death, OSHA chose not to fine the contractor and imposed only a $5,000 penalty on the subcontractor, despite acknowledging violations of federal safety standards.

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