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September 30, 2014

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CONSTRUCTION:

Perini heeds safety critique

Audit of hazards is met with promises to improve Strip sites

CityCenter Construction

MGM Mirage's $9 billion CityCenter project, encompassing seven buildings, continues rising Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009. Launch slideshow »

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Perini Building Co. will take a number of steps to improve workplace safety, including responding more quickly to safety concerns, giving safety orientations in Spanish and establishing a phone number for confidential reporting of safety problems.

Perini also will take corrective action immediately on confirmed hazards and on housekeeping, sanitation and traffic control issues, the company said Wednesday in response to studies that have laid bare a breakdown in safety systems on the CityCenter and Cosmopolitan work sites, both overseen by Perini.

“While we believe Perini work sites are among the safest in the world, we continuously seek to identify methods by which we can adjust and strengthen worker safety, and to that end, we are already implementing many of (the) recommendations,” Perini Chief Executive Craig Shaw said in a written statement. Shaw’s remarks were released by the Center for Construction Research and Training, a union-affiliated organization that conducted the studies.

Eight deaths have occurred at CityCenter and Cosmopolitan, massive adjacent projects. Workers walked out in June to protest safety conditions, setting in motion events that included access to the site by the construction safety center.

Twelve researchers from the center, based in Silver Spring, Md., and other organizations worked for six months on an audit of fall hazards and assessments of the sites’ safety culture. Those reviews included surveys of workers and management as well as on-site observations and interviews conducted in August.

The reports were released Wednesday, although the Sun has reported previously on many of those findings.

The reports describe sites dangerously congested with workers who fear falling debris and feel pressured by supervisors to ignore safety in the rush to finish a job. The reports also say workers often suffered from heat and exhaustion without reliable access to drinking water, that scheduling conflicts led to arguments with workers from other trades, and that workers often do not wear basic protective gear, particularly safety glasses.

“Noncompliance with basic (personal protective equipment) requirements is indicative of a poor safety culture, an ineffective safety program, and lack of supervisor/foreman understanding of their responsibility for safety,” researchers wrote.

For nearly a year Perini executives have insisted there were no root causes of safety problems at its CityCenter and Cosmopolitan sites in Las Vegas.

They said the deaths were the result of workers making unfortunate mistakes on what are unusually large job sites. Executives said the safety systems in place were exemplary and included a “zero tolerance” rule for failure to follow safety requirements and a marketing program to impress upon workers the importance of those requirements.

But researchers reported that Perini appeared to not have an adequate system of identifying and acknowledging root causes of safety breakdowns.

In surveys of more than 3,000 workers as well as foremen, superintendents and top management executives, the center found that Perini safety programs have helped improve safety. But the center, affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades department of the AFL-CIO, found divergent perceptions about safety among various levels of workers and management.

For example, 69 percent of workers said they think safety is more important than meeting job deadlines. By comparison, 94 percent of foremen and executives, and 97 percent of superintendents believed safety was more important.

Perini’s safety plan appears to address some of the researchers’ specific concerns, such as the discovery that a safety orientation training translator stopped translating into Spanish just 15 minutes into a session. Perini said it intends to improve communications “with all workers by better organizing on-site bilingual resources and providing separate new-hire orientations in Spanish,” the company said.

In response to an observation from researchers that Perini was not using safety problems as teachable moments to warn workers of hazards, Perini said it would solicit workers to share safety lessons during the orientations for new employees. And in response to a complaint that Perini told workers to report safety hazards without providing them a number to call, Perini said it would establish a toll-free telephone number to field confidential reports, questions or concerns from workers.

However, one theme running through the reports — a lack of accountability of managers on the job for safety problems — was not addressed in the plans outlined by Perini.

“It appeared that the safety program philosophy emphasized enforcement and discipline for workers who did not follow rules and policies,” as opposed to holding supervisors and contractor management responsible, one of the reports states.

Another area left unaddressed were problems in fall safety.

A fall hazard audit performed by researchers from the University of West Virginia found few fall protection problems at Mandarin but found more serious problems at Aria. Both towers are at MGM Mirage’s $9.2 billion CityCenter, which employs about 10,000 workers. Four workers — two at CityCenter and two at Cosmopolitan — died from falls.

About a third of hole covers in floors were not secured at Aria, and the majority of the guardrails were not structurally sound. Also troubling was that ladders were being used improperly and three of the four stairways inspected had hazardous projections, such as protruding nails.

Researchers suggested Perini focus on ladder safety and installing proper guardrails. The changes outlined by Perini did not address those issues, but the statement noted that the outlined “multi-point action plan” did not cover everything the company was doing in response to the studies.

Researchers from the Center for Construction Research and Training were not available to speak with the Sun on Wednesday.

Representatives of Perini and the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades said their organizations had no further comment beyond the news release issued Wednesday.

A representative of MGM Mirage said officials did not wish to comment because they had not had a chance yet to review the findings.

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