The injury of a Texas construction worker who was nearly killed on the job and then fired for reporting the incident sparked a protest Saturday, as workers and workers-rights groups gathered to draw attention to incident and the plight of whistleblowers throughout the state.
Wilmer Lopez Sanchez told the nonprofit Workers Defense Project (WDP) that he was hit in the back with rebar when a load of the bars fell from a crane at a high-raise apartment project in downtown Austin Nov. 8. He and at least two other workers were injured by the falling rebar.
Mr. Sanchez was treated for his injury at a clinic designated by his employer, concrete contractor Capform Inc. of Carrolton, Texas. The Workers Defense Project, of which Mr. Lopez is a member, notified the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the accident. A director for the WDP told the Texas Tribune that neither Capform nor the general contractor overseeing construction of the high-rise had notified OSHA regulators of the accident, which it is required to do.
The WDP told the Texas Tribune that Capform fired Mr. Sanchez on Nov. 20, the day after he had met with OSHA regulators to discuss the accident. The group alleges has asked OSHA to investigate Mr. Sanchez’s accident as a whistleblower retaliation case.
U.S. law prohibits employers from terminating employees who report workplace injuries and accidents. Mr. Sanchez and the WDP turned to fedral authorities but the State of Texas has no whistleblower protections that make it illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who complain of dangerous working conditions and workplace injuries.
“While we’re out there touting this Texas miracle, Texas is being built on the backs of workers who are injured, even killed on the job, or are considered replaceable or disposable by their employers,” said Emily Timm, deputy director of the WDP, during Saturday’s protest. “This is just not a sustainable way for us to build our state.”
OSHA has put a spotlight on construction accidents in all regions of the country in an effort to raise awareness of the special dangers of construction work and drive down the numbers of those killed and injured on the job. Data suggests these efforts have paid off. The number of worker deaths declined nationally last year.
In Texas, however, the number of worker deaths leapt more than 20 percent last year over the 2011 rate. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Texas actually led the rest of the nation in the number of worker deaths, with 531 people killed on the job, the Texas Tribune reported.
According to the Tribune, “Texas is the only state in the nation that does not make it mandatory for employers of a certain size to carry workers’ compensation insurance or the equivalent. In many cases, injured workers end up on government assistance.”
“It’s a huge cost to our taxpayers,” Ms. Timm told the Tribune. “It’s a huge cost to our public hospitals who end up picking up those costs when workers are dropped off at the emergency room.”