Las Vegas Sun

December 20, 2014

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Local government safety role to get a look

County, city officials also plan to explore ways to strengthen OSHA

Sun Topics

Two leading Southern Nevada elected officials said Thursday they want to bring together developers, building contractors, workers and state and local officials to find ways to improve safety following a series of deaths on construction projects on the Las Vegas Strip.

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross, who heads the local building and construction trades council, said they are eager to know what role localities can play in overseeing construction safety, currently left to state government. Giunchigliani and Ross said they also want to explore steps the Nevada Legislature can take to strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the state agency that investigates workplace accidents.

“I want to hear the suspicions or rationale about why we’ve had the increase in the number of injuries and deaths,” Giunchigliani said. “I’m looking for some concrete recommendations about what local government can do ... or do we have to have the Legislature involved? I’m envisioning this as more fact-finding than anything else.”

Ten construction workers have died in nine accidents on the Strip in the past 17 months, including electrician Mark Wescoat, who fell to his death at CityCenter on Saturday.

“My main concern is that worker safety may be getting compromised in the run to try to get these projects off the ground more quickly,” Giunchigliani said. “I could be wrong, and that’s fine, but this is a huge issue and we need to know what’s driving this.”

Ross said he wants MGM Mirage and the Perini Building Co., general contractor for MGM Mirage’s CityCenter, to know “that we as local governments are greatly concerned and we are going to be as involved as necessary.”

The Sun reported in March that investigators for Nevada OSHA had discovered that contractors committed safety violations in each of the nine deaths that had occurred to that point. Those citations were often withdrawn during informal conferences with employers, a practice sharply criticized by safety experts and federal OSHA officials.

After the Sun’s stories were published, state legislators said they wanted to address the safety issues during the next legislative session, but that does not begin until 2009.

Saturday’s death at CityCenter has given safety issues more urgency, said Giunchigliani, who said she first discussed the topic with Ross last fall as the death toll mounted. Giunchigliani said she wants to meet as soon as next week rather than wait to put the subject on the County Commission agenda.

“This is going to affect everybody in the long run,” said Giunchigliani, a former state assemblywoman who chaired the chamber’s Labor and Management Committee.

Ross said he thinks most of the safety issues stem from workers’ not always following safety guidelines — a belief similar to those voiced by contractors and some local union officials. Safety experts and national union officials, however, have said lax oversight by state safety officials and a rush to build as swiftly as possible could be contributing to unsafe conditions.

Ross said injuries and deaths can be reduced by increasing worker training. Already, MGM Mirage and Perini have agreed to increase training requirements for workers at the $8 billion CityCenter project, where five deaths occurred.

In discussions organized by Ross and the National Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, MGM Mirage, Perini and union leaders agreed to raise training requirements for workers at CityCenter.

Ross said he plans to ask the Legislature next year to pass a bill that would require every construction worker in the state to complete 10 hours of safety training.

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