Friday, June 6, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Nevada workplace safety regulators, concerned about construction worker deaths but overwhelmed by the task of inspecting MGM Mirage’s $9.2 billion CityCenter site, have taken an unprecedented step: Calling in help from the feds.
Inspectors from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will help Nevada OSHA in a thorough inspection of CityCenter, Gov. Jim Gibbons’ office announced Thursday. Officials at the U.S. Labor Department said they think it’s the first time federal OSHA has become involved in a Nevada OSHA investigation, a federal representative said.
The decision came five days after operating engineer Dustin Tarter became the sixth construction worker to die at CityCenter and the 11th worker fatality on the Strip in the past 18 months.
Workers at CityCenter and adjacent Cosmopolitan walked out for one day Monday to protest unsafe conditions.
“The construction project at CityCenter is enormous,” Nevada OSHA Chief Administrative Officer Tom Czehowski said in written statement. “Given the unprecedented scope of the project and the six fatalities on the site thus far, it’s essential that we conduct the comprehensive inspection as thoroughly — and as quickly — as possible.”
Nevada OSHA began an inspection of CityCenter on May 12, and, apparently has become overwhelmed by the sheer size of the six-tower project rising rapidly on a timetable to open late next year.
Nevada OSHA is budgeted 25 inspector positions in Las Vegas, but as of last month it was still seeking candidates for five positions that had been open for many months. The department has found it difficult to hire qualified inspectors amid a boom in demand for safety experts from construction companies. A department representative was not sure how many vacancies exist currently.
Federal involvement will help speed the process and “ensure worker safety,” the governor’s office said. Federal inspectors will offer help with inspections but will not have the authority to issue citations for safety violations.
The unusual announcement comes as Nevada has taken heat for lax enforcement of safety laws on Strip construction projects.
In an investigation, the Las Vegas Sun found that Nevada OSHA has repeatedly reduced — and in several cases altogether withdrawn — citations issued against construction companies following Strip fatalities.
Since reporting began, Nevada OSHA has taken steps that indicate it is becoming tougher on contractors. Twice it has refused to withdraw or reduce citations against contractors after fatalities. Last week, under pressure from the ironworkers union, the agency agreed to require safety decking or netting below employees. The requirement had been eased by federal OSHA.
The governor used the occasion of the CityCenter inspection announcement to defend the agency.
“We are in a period of unparalleled construction growth, and I commend Nevada OSHA for being proactive in utilizing federal resources to finalize this inspection,” Gibbons said. “Nevada OSHA continues to work diligently to ensure the safety of our workers.”
The comments were the first from the governor on the topic since the Sun reported on the construction deaths in March.