Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Safety professionals, union representatives and injured workers at a roundtable discussion of construction worker safety Wednesday agreed that a shift in construction safety in Las Vegas is under way.
“We’re changing the culture on the job site as it relates to safety,” said Jack Mallory, secretary-treasurer of the Painters Union District Council 15. “We put a lot of effort and pressure on our workforce to make that change happen.”
It was the second roundtable on the topic convened by county Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani.
The first was held in June, following the deaths of 12 workers in an
18-month period. The deaths provoked a public outcry and prompted construction workers to stage a massive walkout at the CityCenter and Cosmopolitan construction sites.
In the six months since then, not one worker has died. What was a booming, high-speed commercial construction industry has stalled amid the recession.
On Wednesday night, it didn’t take long for the discussion to turn into a scathing critique of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates workplace safety in the state.
OSHA can’t hang on to good workers because salaries aren’t high enough, said Dale Walsh, president of the local chapter of the American Association of Safety Engineers and the first person to testify before the panel.
OSHA cites companies for insignificant problems at construction sites, such as coffee pots and microwaves not being in the right place, instead of focusing on serious safety problems, said Max Carter, representing the electricians union.
Its fines are dangerously low, even for repeat offenders, said Myron Jones, a local safety consultant.
“It has reached the point that employers are looking at Nevada OSHA and saying it’s cheaper to pay the fines than to write and enforce safety procedures because OSHA is not going to hit us that hard anyway,” Jones said.
For the first half of the meeting, officials on the dais included Giunchigliani, county Director of Development Services Ron Lynn, Associated General Contractors Vice President Steve Holloway and Building Trades President Rick Johnson.
OSHA was without a representative.
“Unfortunately, OSHA is not here again,” Giunchigliani said to Walsh as the meeting began.
Also absent during the first half of the meeting were state policymakers who could push legislation affecting Nevada OSHA.
Midway through the session, Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera and Assemblyman Marcus Conklin arrived.
Oceguera assured the group of about 40 that the Legislature would take on worker safety during its upcoming session, including a close examination of the Industrial Relations Division, which oversees Nevada OSHA.
One proposed bill would require all construction workers to take 10 hours of OSHA-certified safety training. Unions offer this training, and supporters, including the Associated General Contractors and the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council, say the requirement will cut down on injuries.
The proposal received some strong support Wednesday, but mixed reviews as well.
“Real training is not a catchall solution,” Mallory said. “But it is a beginning, and that’s where we need to go.”
Jones, who has taught the safety course to thousands of workers, said he is concerned that many workers would tune it out. “We’re going to spend a lot of money and line the pockets of the agencies who want to do this training and cost employers a lot of money and accomplish nothing in the safety arena,” Jones said.
Others spoke of the need to create a stronger link between job site safety and worker compensation rates and benefits.
“The only way this industry — which is very competitive — is going to react is if there’s a cost to it, if we want to be very serious about safety,” said Marc Furman, president of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters.
Craig Mitchie, an injured worker, implored policymakers to take advantage of the recent attention to make the workers’ compensation system function better for injured workers.
“Let’s not miss out on this opportunity,” Mitchie said.