Worker Correspondents: City Incapable of Protecting Construction Workers

Cover photo by Tribune Support Committee in Austin

By Mike Talavera

The City of Austin implemented safety training for utility workers in response to the death of Cristo Ramos in October, a 27-year-old worker who fell into a manhole due to lack of precautions by construction management at a Quick Trip site in North Austin. But one veteran construction worker told the Tribune that the city’s efforts are largely futile because the profit-driven development companies avoid hiring city utility department specialists to cut down on costs.

After Ramos’s death, it was confirmed that he had not been tied off while working on the manhole and no spotters were present. The pressure of the sewage suddenly yanked him by the rope tied around his hand, and he was pulled underground into the sewage lines. His body was found 10 miles from the construction site where he was pronounced dead. The pressure was such that his body traveled at twice the normal speed. Ramos’s father, also a construction worker, was present on site at the time.

The proper precautions were not taken because instead of subcontracting specialists for the job, the general contractor for the site relied on Subgrade-Specialties, a backfill and utility company.

“A backfill company with minimal experience in underground utility work should not be putting its workers in situations where these dangerous conditions are new to them,” the veteran worker said. “But [these] private companies just don’t wanna give up the money to get it done safe and right.”

“That’s a big reason why we often see these private company job sites circumventing standard safety practices,” he said. “It’s because they aren’t necessarily specialized in what they are doing and think they can just figure these things out on the fly when really, you need to be working with experienced workers in each area that are capable of submitting safety plans before they even begin doing the job.”

Over one hundred people attended Ramos’s funeral in October, where balloons were released in his honor.

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