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Better Builder Program provides oversight for construction sites in Travis County

Thursday, November 2, 2023 by Ken Chambers

County construction site monitors have uncovered a range of safety violations – including a child operating heavy machinery, the Travis County Commissioners Court learned Tuesday. 

While most issues found by monitors in the Travis County Better Builder Program are not immediately dangerous, director of Contract Compliance and Better Builder programs Tenley Aldredge told commissioners, some are genuinely frightening. 

“When my monitors go onto the job site, they do observe unsafe conditions. On one occasion there was a child operating heavy machinery,” she said. “The child was immediately taken off that piece of heavy equipment.”

Issues such as pay violations, unsafe ladder placement and insufficient OSHA training are common, Aldredge said. 

“On occasion, we’ll encounter a worker that has not received that training and we immediately notify that person’s employer they have to get signed up for OSHA as soon as possible,” she said. 

Aldredge noted that free OSHA training is available so the requirement is not a financial burden.

The Better Builder Program was created in collaboration with the Workers Defense Project, which has a trademark on Better Builder, Aldredge said. 

“We’re authorized to call our program the Travis County Better Builder Program through their permission and that carries with it conditions, including really in-depth monitoring of each Better Builder-designated project,” she said.

Better Builder standards include OSHA 10 training for all workers, OSHA 30 training for safety managers and compliance with prevailing wages.  

“We have certifications that capture all of this and we make sure that the workers are not misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees, which is a ubiquitous problem in Texas and the United States generally,” Aldredge said. “We’ve had a lot of instances of people not being paid or not being paid according to what they were told they would be paid.”

For a project to be called a Better Builder project and be eligible for monitoring by the county, it must have a total cost of more than $1 million, Aldredge’s presentation showed. Complex projects with numerous construction trades involved are more likely to be named Better Builder projects. Apprentice participation is also important. 

Her presentation included data on the use of the program in county projects financed by bond issues. The 2017 bond election financed 26 projects, and the Better Builder program monitored 13 of those, Aldredge said. 

“I had only two monitors at the time, and our program was just starting up,” Aldredge said. “We were still finalizing our protocols for job interviews and for data collection and analysis, so we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion said that he would like to see all the county’s construction projects monitored for safety and wage violations. 

“Maybe we can work with the county attorney to craft a program that does the things we think are important job by job,” he said, recommending that the topic be taken up in an executive session sometime in the future.

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