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December 19, 2014

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Plan would weigh construction bidders’ safety along with price

Track records of those who do business with county would be reviewed if commissioner has her way

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Chris Giunchigliani

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This past summer, when the Clark County Commission voted to grant a $1.2 billion airport construction contract to Perini Building Co., safety issues were hardly raised despite widespread concerns over nine deaths at the CityCenter, Trump and Cosmopolitan projects — all of which Perini ran as general contractor.

In selecting Perini, the county, as is the general practice, accepted the lowest bid from an approved contractor without viewing or considering safety records. Perini’s bid was a full $200 million less than that of the nearest bidder for construction of a third terminal at McCarran International Airport. The project has had no publicly disclosed safety problems.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani says safety should be considered in evaluating project bids. Pointing to policies in Los Angeles County, Calif., Giunchigliani said this week that she plans to introduce several proposals for local enforcement of construction safety at the next commission meeting, on April 7.

Among them is a requirement that contractors’ safety records be a factor in their inclusion on the list of contractors preapproved to build public works projects in the county. She also wants to require that commissioners review contractors’ safety histories in making contract decisions.

“We have to be active and not take a passive approach to safety,” Giunchigliani said. “I think we can do that through our contract process.”

Her proposals stem from two hearings on construction worker safety she convened in June and February, where union officials, workers and safety experts testified before a panel of legislators, commissioners, and labor and management representatives.

They come as the Legislature considers workplace safety legislation to address problems that arose amid the Las Vegas Strip building boom.

Giunchigliani would like the county to study the policies of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which requires contractors to go through an extensive safety-check process. Contractors must provide the school district with injury rates, OSHA violations for the past five years, safety policies and procedures, and workers’ compensation safety ratings. Companies with safety ratings far above average, indicating poor safety histories, are not eligible to bid.

“Safety is a big factor when companies are bidding for a job,” district spokeswoman Shannon Haber said.

Giunchigliani also hopes to come up with a plan for the county to become more involved in construction safety beyond public projects.

Right now, that is an area entirely regulated by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The county instead oversees building code compliance.

Nevada OSHA chief administrative officer Tom Czehowski recently testified before a state Senate committee that the agency is understaffed and was unable to keep up during the building boom.

Giunchigliani hopes the county can fill in — a tack taken in other jurisdictions. In New York City, for example, the city’s building department is deeply involved in regulating safety on construction sites.

Giunchigliani said she plans to explore the feasibility of having county employees review contractor safety plans as part of the normal plan check process, and of having inspectors look at safety during building inspections. They could issue correction notices, as is standard for code violations, or refer problems to OSHA, she said.

Employees who oversee internal safety procedures for the county approached her and said they would like to become more involved in construction safety, Giunchigliani said.

“We have some well-qualified folks already in the county, and folks in the building department could pick up safety training,” she said. “That gives you some additional eyes and ears.”

Attorney Randy Rabinowitz, an expert in workplace safety law, said that based on previous court decisions, the county may have to obtain permission from Nevada OSHA or authorization through state law to become formally involved in regulating a safety standard that OSHA oversees.

Either way, Rabinowitz said, there’s nothing to stop building inspectors from reporting to OSHA when they notice safety problems on construction sites.

That should prevent such problems as occurred at a North Carolina chicken plant in 1991, Rabinowitz noted. In that disaster, 25 people were killed in a fire after they were trapped behind locked fire doors.

The plant had never been inspected by workplace safety inspectors. But leading up to the fire, inspectors from the U.S. Agriculture Department visited the plant on a near-daily basis to inspect food safety procedures.

“Nobody thought to call the Department of Labor,” Rabinowitz said.

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