Safety is discussed after Las Vegas construction deaths

Worker safety is being debated as construction worker deaths taint construction of MGM Mirage's $9.2 billion CityCenter, which is a complex of condominiums, hotels, luxury retail and restaurants set to open in late 2009 on the Las Vegas Strip, according to The Wall Street Journal. Since the project began in 2006, six workers have been killed.

Timothy G. Galarnyk, a construction safety expert and chief executive of Construction Risk Management Inc., Eau Claire, Wis., says six deaths for the project is a "staggering number."

"That is the kind of numbers we would see in Third World countries," he says.

This week, inspectors from the federal and state divisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are conducting a comprehensive safety inspection at the site. In addition, Nevada OSHA is investigating two earlier worker deaths at CityCenter.

The Center for Construction Research and Training, which is a union-affiliated, federally funded national organization, will assess the site's safety and recommend improvements. One factor to examine will be whether the pace of the project is too hurried, leading to safety mistakes. If the project is not completed on time, MGM Mirage could lose a $100 million bonus fee from DubaiWorld, which owns half of CityCenter.

Six thousand CityCenter workers went on strike last week—after the most recent death—and demanded more safety training. They returned to work in less than a day after Perini Building Co., Las Vegas, the general contractor, promised safety training for all CityCenter workers during paid shifts.

Since 2006, 11 construction workers have been killed on various work sites along the Las Vegas Strip alone. The CityCenter project has had the most deaths and is raising questions about the safety responsibilities of workers, contractors and developers.

MGM Mirage issued a statement that authority figures should play a large part in safety: "Workplace safety is the joint responsibility of the contractors, subcontractors and unions; in practice, however, safety can only be assured by individuals."

Union officials say workers have to bear some of the responsibility. They cite a CityCenter death involving a man who didn't wear a harness and fell; officials say the man should have worn a harness but the employer also should have provided safety netting to break his fall.

Workers for Las Vegas projects complain of an atmosphere that emphasizes speed over safety and say supervisors don't always practice the safety they promote.

Other companies and hotels with current projects will be watching to see whether MGM Mirage will have to make changes or take steps that could become requirements and affect or delay operations for all other Las Vegas projects.

Date : 6/13/2008