Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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Locals leaders urge fix of “broken” construction safety system

At a sparsely attended roundtable discussion Saturday, local community leaders said they want to fix what they termed a "broken" system for construction safety.

"Workers compensation is broken. Nevada OSHA is broken. Our budget is broken," said Steve Ross, head of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council and Las Vegas city council member. "We are never going to remove accidents completely from any of these job sites. But a majority of the accidents that have happened here in Southern Nevada are preventable."

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said he was hopeful the city and the county could come up with solutions.

"A lot is broke...but we can do something about this," the mayor said. "We're very concerned about what's happening in our community as far as safety of the hardhats - those people building the new Las Vegas. We want to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Ross organized Saturday's meeting at County offices to discuss the rash of recent construction worker deaths on the Las Vegas Strip, and the weak response from Nevada's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Giunchigliani, Goodman, County Commissioner Rory Reid, Associated General Contractors vice president Steve Holloway, and Building Trades Council president Rick Johnson sat at the dais while the room was filled with roughly 50 attendees, mostly union leaders. But several state legislators who had intended to come - assembly majority leader John Oceguera, senate minority leader Steven Horsford, and assemblyman Jerry Claborn - had to miss the meeting due to the special legislative session in Carson City that did not wrap up until late Friday night.

Also notably absent in the discussion were representatives from Nevada's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, CityCenter owner MGM Mirage, and CityCenter general contractor Perini Building Company.

Giunchigliani said Nevada OSHA told her they would not attend the meeting but would talk to her on the phone about her concerns. MGM Mirage spokesperson Alan Feldman, who did not attend, said in a conversation later that several company officials had attended the meeting.

Giunchigliani said she would write up a list of items discussed to send to people who could not attend. County Commissioner Rory Reid, meanwhile, asked the building trades unions to issue a comprehensive list of suggestions to improve safety on Strip construction projects in an effort to spur further discussion and a future roundtable. Ross agreed, and said he would enlist suggestions from contractors as well.

Ross called on CityCenter owner MGM Mirage to accept more responsibility for safety at CityCenter. Six workers have died in the $9.2 billion project.

"Just as any company who has a project built on their behalf will provide oversight of the project; was it built to proper specifications? Was it built on time and on budget? Project owners must also provide oversight when it comes to the safety of their job site," Ross said. "Direction on job site safety starts at the top. As a part of the specifications of the project, the project owner must include a comprehensive safety program as a part of their master budget. Just like you have to pay for building materials, labor and equipment, you must also pay for safety on your job site. Including, at a minimum, making sure that workers have access to the proper safety equipment and that all workers have OSHA-10 certified training.

Giunchigliani said she thought there might be too much of a "piecemeal" approach to enforcement, and wondered whether local ordinance changes could boost safety. She also pointed to studies of conformity and obedience and suggested that Las Vegas might need to work on changing the culture of safety from the top down.

Meeting participants also advocated for more worker safety training and said and suggested the County and City place third party safety inspectors on site at all times to make up for oversight lacking from Nevada OSHA, and require that project owners issue plans that outline safety in advance of beginning construction.

But the problem of budgetary restrictions - as well as resistance to change in a deep-set culture of fast-paced construction - also loomed heavy over the proceedings.

"We need to realistic," Reid said. "The fiscal crises state and local governments are suffering through is real, and departments haven't received additional staff in years. I think we need to try to be creative, all of us...the private sector and public sector. I think we all share the same interest in making workers safe."

Twelve workers have died in the last 19 months on Strip construction projects. A Sun investigation found that Nevada's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has repeatedly reduced - and in several cases withdrawn - the citations they issued against contractors during informal settlement conferences after the fatalities.

Response has grown locally and nationally, even as worker deaths continue. On Tuesday in Washington, D.C., members of Congress expressed deep misgivings about construction safety in Nevada during a hearing at the House of Representatives.

Several weeks ago the Southern Nevada Building Trades Council, led by Ross, organized a one-day walkout over safety and MGM Mirage's CityCenter project.

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