Monday, August 4, 2008

Worker Safety in Sin City (or The "Belly of the Beast")

Orleanslogo_2Thanks to friend of the blog, Patrick O'Donnell, for bringing to my attention this sickening and troubling workplace safety story about Las Vegas from the LA Times (and for the snazzy title to this post):

A recently hired plumber was sent into the bowels of the Orleans hotel and casino last year to unplug a sewer pipe in a large grease trap -- an assignment that would be his last.

The hotel had no permit or training program to allow plumber Richard Luzier to enter a confined space where he might inhale poisonous sewer gas. He had no breathing apparatus or emergency rescue harness -- all routine precautions.

Luzier fell 12 feet and landed face down in fatty sewage. As supervisors watched, a second unprepared worker, Travis Koehler, went into the pit to help. He collapsed on top of Luzier. A third man, David Snow, was sent in.

By the time city rescue personnel could enter the trap, Snow was in a coma, heaped atop the first two men, who were dead. Snow woke 23 days later in the hospital with a tube down his throat and permanent disabling injuries.

Investigators at the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration concluded that the casino, owned by Boyd Gaming Corp., had "willfully" violated safety rules.

The company had a previous violation involving such confined spaces. And the investigators found evidence that in 2001 a worker fell sick after working in a grease trap and was cared for in a hotel room for several days before being sent to a hospital, according to state records.

But when the investigators tried to formally cite the company after the two men's deaths, Boyd attorneys pressed two political appointees overseeing Nevada OSHA, Mendy Elliott and D. Roger Bremner, for a less severe finding. In a private settlement conference, Bremner, administrator of the Nevada Division of Industrial Relations, knocked the finding down to "serious" rather than "willful," according to state records. A willful finding could have exposed Boyd to civil suits, normallypreventedby workers compensation law.

"You don't touch a casino in this state," said Don Barker, the former safety director of Boyd Gaming. "I got paid to make things go away. I might go into a conference facing a $25,000 fine and leave with a $1,500 fine. This situation would never happen in any other state. The program has no teeth." . . . .

In case after case, the state has dropped or sharply reduced fines and penalties proposed by investigators, just as it did in the Orleans case. To some critics, the handling of the accidents has sent a message to the construction and gaming industries that they can disregard safety rules with near impunity . . . .

As the problems in Nevada have unfolded, unions have walked off the job in protest. The U.S. Labor Department has sent a team to examine the state OSHA program. The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee is investigating. The Las Vegas Sun published a series of stories detailing a pattern of safety problems and lax enforcement.

And the Nevada Attorney General's Office is conducting its own ethics probe into the conduct of Elliott and Bremner. Conrad Hafen, chief deputy attorney general, said his department would not comment on its ongoing investigation.

The gaming industry doesn't like the image. Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs at MGM Mirage, said the safety record was not satisfactory. At MGM's CityCenter project, six workers have died, and the company has expanded its safety program with its general contractor, Perini Building Co., he said.

You know, I am really sorry that Mr. Feldman doesn't like his company's image being hurt, but that it what six deaths on construction projects will do for you.  Cry me a river, buddy. You earned your reputation.

And talk about the fox guarding the hen house: yeah, let's have the Bush OSHA administrator investigate Nevada's program.  Maybe they can sit down and retell stories of how badly they have screwed/kill workers with hazardous workplaces over the last eight years and coddled industry in the process.

Gimme a break.  Just another shady side of the gambling industry. 

Hey, folks, it's all for kicks.  Doesn't the trumpeting crocodile send that message to you?


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And I defy anyone to identify any meaningful differences between this process and the NLRB's treatment of Beck cases. To borrow a few phrases, "talk about the fox guarding the hen house: yeah, let's have the [unionized bureaucrats at the NLRB] investigate [union's Beck violations]. Maybe they can sit down and retell stories of how badly they have screwed [nonunion] workers with [forced-unionism schemes] over the last [sixty] years and coddled [unions] in the process."

Posted by: James Young | Aug 4, 2008 12:39:18 PM

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