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April 20, 2014

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CONSTRUCTION SAFETY:

Labor, builders unite to endorse bill to require training

But union leaders fail to turn out for hearing on proposal to strengthen OSHA’s role

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Sam Morris

Union official Steve Ross, before the Commerce and Labor Committee Friday in Las Vegas, endorses a bill requiring safety training.

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Victor Pulido, a member of Laborers Local 872, listens at the Grant Sawyer building in downtown Las Vegas to testimony during a hearing Friday of the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee in Carson City and Las Vegas.

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A bill that would require 10 hours of safety training for construction workers received enthusiastic and unanimous support from union members and contractors who turned out in Carson City and Las Vegas for an Assembly committee hearing Friday.

The fast and furious pace of construction on the Strip in 2007 and 2008 “created an overload on the system,” Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Secretary-Treasurer Steve Ross testified to the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee from a meeting room in the Grant Sawyer state building downtown.

Ross was referring to 12 deaths on the Las Vegas Strip during that period that created a public outcry and led unions to organize a massive walkout in June of the CityCenter and Cosmopolitan projects, both overseen by Perini Building Co.

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, who introduced Assembly Bill 148, testified that construction speed and rapid growth had created work sites where safety was no longer the No. 1 priority.

“I think this bill is the first step to changing that culture,” Oceguera said.

Members of the laborers union wearing reflective yellow construction vests took up many of the seats in the packed room in Las Vegas. They cheered loudly when committee Chairman Marcus Conklin thanked them for their support for the bill.

The scene stood in sharp contrast to another meeting on worker safety, held Wednesday by Conklin’s counterpart in the Senate, Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas.

Carlton, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, had sharply questioned Nevada OSHA Chief Administrative Officer Tom Czehowski about weak enforcement of state workplace safety laws.

Carlton intends to consider a bill that would strengthen Nevada OSHA’s oversight of worker safety. She had asked union leaders to attend and to send workers and family members of accident victims to testify.

It didn’t happen.

In an interview Friday before the hearing on AB148, Ross explained he is “engulfed in what we’re doing with the building trades at the grass-roots level” instead of focusing on OSHA and workers’ compensation issues.

He said he spoke to Carlton and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, on Thursday and agreed to participate in their inquiries of OSHA.

He declined to say whether he would like to see a bill that would reform Nevada OSHA.

“After visiting with (Czehowski) a couple of weeks ago, I have a much better understanding of how his office operates,” Ross said. “He’s under the gun this budget cycle. I think we all need to do whatever we can that would help OSHA in this state.”

AB148 would require that all construction workers in the state undergo a 10-hour safety training course developed by the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Supervisors would be required to undergo 30 hours of training.

The bill would require Nevada OSHA to issue certification cards to workers who show proof they’ve received the training, and to cite and fine employers who are found to be allowing an uncertified worker on the project for longer than 60 days.

Experts say the classes — known as “OSHA 10” classes — can have a modest effect on construction sites when taught well. That’s been Perini’s experience, company representative Leslie Pittman testified to the committee.

The general contractor began requiring workers to attend the classes as part of the settlement with the building trades that stemmed from the CityCenter/Cosmopolitan walkout. Perini has trained more than 10,000 workers in the past six months, Pittman said.

“It has been Perini’s experience this training strengthens workplace safety by increasing worker knowledge and awareness of best safety practices,” Pittman said.

Nevada OSHA has raised concerns about the agency’s ability to carry out the enforcement requirements in the bill, given funding restrictions, and it has filed an amendment that would reduce its role in certifying workers.

Czehowski said at the hearing that he plans to work with others to “refine” the bill and emphasized his support for the concept.

“We think it will certainly help increase awareness of safety in state,” Czehowski said.

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