Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2018

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Big Apple’s big lesson on safety training

It should be backed up with strict enforcement

Sun Topics

Faced with the same predicament as Las Vegas — a string of construction deaths — New York City has turned to worker safety training.

All construction workers in the city on buildings 15 stories or higher have until July to prove they’ve taken a 10-hour class on safety.

The idea was to make construction workers more aware of safety procedures in hope preventing deaths and injuries. But the New York Daily News, in the sort of undercover investigation the city’s tabloids do so well, discovered while preparing a story published last week that the training is sometimes a joke.

One class lasted only two hours and workers were given time to go out and get beers. In another case, trainers were handing out fake certification cards to workers who never took the class.

The revelations come at an uncomfortable time for union and industry groups pushing the same training on Nevada.

Following a rash of deaths on the Strip that highlighted weak enforcement by the state, legislation here on worker safety will call for the same 10 hours of safety training for construction workers that New York is requiring.

That is the gist of Assembly Bill 148, introduced this week in the Nevada Legislature’s Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor. All construction workers in the state would be required to sit through the 10-hour course, developed by the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Supervisors would have to attend 30 hours of training.

The bill echoes a policy put in place this summer at MGM Mirage’s CityCenter, where about 7,600 workers have been given “OSHA-10” training following six deaths at the construction site. That was organized by general contractor Perini Building Co. and the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council, both supporters of the bill.

“What we found is the most immediate impact we could make was on increasing safety awareness, increasing training on the job site,” said Steve Redlinger, spokesman for the council.

Trade union locals require workers to take the safety classes as part of their training. The courses are also offered by some industry groups, and the state provides free classes to construction workers.

But at CityCenter it was clear that many older workers and those from outside Las Vegas weren’t certified. Many nonunion workers are also not certified.

Citing New York as an example, critics say the bill will be difficult for the state’s understaffed OSHA to enforce. The bill, which would require the Division of Industrial Relations to issue a certification card to anyone who submits “proof that he has completed an OSHA-10 course approved by the Division,” and would impose fines on employers who don’t fire workers without cards, is vague on enforcement.

State officials are already nervous.

“While the DIR/OSHA supports the goal of this legislation, which is a safer workplace, it has a concern about the bill’s fiscal impact, especially given current economic conditions,” DIR spokeswoman Elisabeth Shurtleff said.

Both Shurtleff and Redlinger said they are working to tweak the bill’s language to make it more effective.

“We want to pass a bill that is enforceable and does set a higher standard, does have a tangible result on safety,” Redlinger said.

There’s some research to support the theory that safety training will help. One published study, for example, conducted in 2004, indicated that training can reduce workers’ compensation claims for injuries.

But these studies have examined closely supervised programs. That not all such safety programs are equal — and equally well-regulated — is a lesson from New York City that Nevada may learn.

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