Austin residents don’t need to be told the numbers to know that we’ve been undergoing a huge population boom. All it takes is a drive down Mopac or a jaunt up to Round Rock to understand just how rapidly our area is growing.
However, for those that require statistical proof, here’s a quick snapshot of Austin growth:
- Together, Austin, Dallas, and Houston generate about 10 percent of the nation’s new housing permits.
- In 2018, the amount of new home starts in Austin was at its highest level since 2006, during the height of the real estate bubble.
- Between 2015 and 2019, Austin experienced an 11.3 percent population growth, making it one of the fastest growing cities in America.
The influx of new residents to our city has drastically increased demand for real estate, so much so that in October 2018, the Austin Board of Realtors (ABOR) warned that our area was in critical need of added housing supply. Their data showed that Austin currently only has about 2.1 months of inventory available at any given time — an 11.6 percent year-over-year decrease in housing supply.
That has led to a burst of activity in the construction market, bringing to light one of Texas’s most insidious problems: construction site accidents. The Lone Star State has a deadly reputation for catastrophic accidents in the construction industry — and with Austin’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for new homes and office buildings, Texas construction workers need to take every precaution they can to protect their health and their rights.
Low Housing Supply Has Created Opportunities for New Construction
Austin’s limited housing supply has naturally led to more new construction as builders try to capitalize on the booming real estate market. Indeed, the same ABOR report showed that new listings in the city were up 5 percent in 2018. According to an April 2018 Department of Housing and Urban Development report, there were 4,550 new housing units under construction in the Austin area at the time of publication — roughly 9 percent of the city’s 51,700-unit demand.
Surrounding areas have felt the effect of the Austin housing market, as well. Outlying suburbs like Pflugerville, Manor, Del Valle, Cedar Park, Leander, Liberty Hill, and Kyle/Buda have all experienced increased housing starts — more than 1,000 every year. Taken together, that’s a huge amount of new construction going on in the region.
A Dangerous Job with Potentially Deadly Consequences
A booming housing market is typically a good thing: it means our area is economically strong, as our jobs forecast reflects. However, for those working on construction sites, the rush to build new homes may pose a serious hazard.
Earlier this year, a Williamson County resident contracted to clear land died while operating a backhoe. That event was unfortunately not an outlier; Texas leads the nation for construction worker deaths, with a statewide industry fatality rate of over 10 percent.
Construction workers in Texas are also highly likely to be injured on the job. The Workers Defense Project, a membership-based organization for low-income workers, surveyed Texas construction workers about on-the-job safety. In that survey, one in five respondents reported that they sustained an injury at work that required medical care.
Poor training and employer management seems to be at least partly at fault; workers complain that they’re frequently offered little to no safety training. That’s even more likely to be true if the worker in question is an undocumented immigrant. These individuals make up over half of the construction workforce in Texas, yet 73 percent say they have received no safety training, compared to 40 percent of documented workers.
Additionally, at least in part because Texas doesn’t require employers to hold workers’ compensation policies, many of the hospital bills generated by these accidents remain unpaid. Although construction employees make up just 6 percent of the Texas workforce, they account for around 20 percent of uncompensated work-related medical bills in Texas emergency rooms. Without access to proper legal representation and payment resources, the burden for paying for those medical bills often falls to local governments and taxpayers.
Nationally, more than 800 construction workers die every year while on the job, according to OSHA data. The vast majority of those accidents occur because workers were struck by vehicles, equipment, and other objects. Construction industry scaffolding, ladders, and fall protection training all fall into OSHA’s top 10 list of most commonly cited standards in worksite inspections. Perhaps even more revealing, data shows that about 60 percent of construction injuries occur during a worker’s first year on the job. What this seems to suggest is that construction employees desperately need more thorough safety training and oversight.
How Can Texas Construction Workers Protect Themselves?
Changing the business practices of Texas construction companies is a long battle, and one that we are actively fighting for our clients here at FVF. In the meantime, however, construction workers can take the following actions to stay safe on the job.
- Insist on proper safety training and access to safety equipment such as fall protection systems. Follow all safety policies to the letter.
- Wear protective clothing and equipment, including safety goggles, steel-toed boots, and hard hats.
- Keep work areas clear of debris to limit slip-and-fall accidents and other hazards.
- Always practice defensive driving when operating vehicles on the jobsite.
- If you have been injured at work, contact a legal professional to help you assert your rights and identify options to pay for medical expenses and lost wages.
Construction will always be a dangerous job, but businesses owe it to their employees to take safety guidelines seriously. If you have been injured on the job — any job — our team at FVF can help you investigate workplace practices, negotiate with employers and insurance companies, and find ways to pay for your damages. Get in touch today for a free case evaluation.