Jul 19, 2011

Construction Safety Improving Slowly

Safety for Austin-area construction is improving since the 2009 death of three workers. Photo by DAngelo Favata

[audio:https://reportingtexas.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/KUT-Audio.mp3|titles=Hannah Jones]

By Hannah Jones
For Reporting Texas and KUT News

It’s been just over two years since three construction workers died in a scaffold collapse at the 21 Rio apartments. The accident caused some construction companies to listen more closely to workers and advocates about improving job site safety.

Maxum Development, one of the developers on the 21 Rio project, said they are working with the Workers Defense Project so they can make better choices about which contractors they hire. The company’s owner, Gary Perkins, said that, since the workers’ deaths in 2009, the company has tried to become more accountable.

“It has changed in that we’re opening up the communications, and if there is a problem, then we address it,” Perkins said. “It’s very difficult when you have 200 people working on a project a day, especially a very large project like 21 Rio was, to stay focused on that. But we’re really pushing that under the radar and making sure as best we can people have rest breaks, etcetera.”

Cristina Tzintun, Executive Director of the Workers Defense Project, said her organization has seen a slight drop in construction-related deaths in Texas between 2009 and 2010.

“The data we released before shows that there were 142 deaths, and it dropped to 138 deaths,” Tzintun said. “That’s not a very significant drop. So, while there’s been some important changes [in the] attitude about being concerned about safety by industry leaders and policy makers alike, there’s still a long way to go. Texas is the only state in the country that does not require employers to carry a worker’s compensation coverage.”

Tzintun said the group also wants to make sure the projects developed and built by Austin companies are sustainable, both for the environment and the workforce.

“We’ve definitely seen a shift for people to care more about safety,” Tzintun said. “City Council has passed some important new regulations that are an important step in the right direction, but it’s a huge culture to change within the industry, and that takes time. But [it] also takes more leadership and initiative from industry leaders than we currently are seeing.”

Maxum Development owner, Gary Perkins, said the partnership has helped open lines of communication between management and employees.

Meanwhile, Tzintun said the Workers Defense Project is trying to forge more partnerships like the one they have with Maxum.