As Texas swelters, local rules requiring water breaks for construction workers will soon be nullified

Gov. Greg Abbott approved this week a law that will eliminate city and county ordinances like Austin and Dallas’ mandated water breaks.


In a week when parts of the state are getting triple-digit temperatures and weather officials urge Texans to stay cool and hydrated, Gov. Greg Abbott gave final approval to a law that will eliminate local rules mandating water breaks for construction workers.

House Bill 2127 was passed by the Texas Legislature during this year’s regular legislative session. Abbott signed it Tuesday. It will go into effect on Sept. 1.

Supporters of the law have said it will eliminate a patchwork of local ordinances across the state that bog down businesses. The law’s scope is broad but ordinances that establish minimum breaks in the workplace are one of the explicit targets. The law will nullify ordinances enacted by Austin in 2010 and Dallas in 2015 that established 10-minute breaks every four hours so that construction workers can drink water and protect themselves from the sun. It also prevents other cities from passing such rules in the future. San Antonio has been considering a similar ordinance.

Texas is the state where the most workers die from high temperatures, government data shows. At least 42 workers died in Texas between 2011 and 2021 from environmental heat exposure, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers’ unions claim this data doesn’t fully reflect the magnitude of the problem because heat-related deaths are often recorded under a different primary cause of injury.

This problem particularly affects Latinos because they represent six out of every 10 construction workers, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Unions expect heat-related deaths to go up if mandated water breaks go away.

“Construction is a deadly industry. Whatever the minimum protection is, it can save a life. We are talking about a human right,” said Ana Gonzalez, deputy director of policy and politics at the Texas AFL-CIO. “We will see more deaths, especially in Texas’ high temperatures.”

The National Weather Service is forecasting highs over 100 degrees in several Texas cities for at least the next seven days.

Heat waves are extreme weather events, often more dangerous than tornadoes, severe thunderstorms or floods. High temperatures kill people, and not just in the workplace. Last year, there were 279 heat-related deaths in Texas, based on data analysis by The Texas Tribune.