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Nevada: 12 Construction Deaths, Meager Response

According to an article in yesterday’s Las Vegas Sun, state Senator Maggie Carlton’s efforts to reform the Nevada OSHA program are likely to produce little action. It seems that Senator Carlton and the family members of those killed in the spate of construction disasters in Las Vegas over the past two years are the only people who are concerned about the issue. Carlton’s proposal to take Nevada OSHA out of the Business and Industry Department, where it had been subject to undue influence preventing it from effectively enforcing standards, has died a quiet death. And little else seems to be coming from a series of hearings on the problem, other than a proposal to require workers to take basic OSHA safety training and to require state OSHA personnel to communicate with family members killed on the job (they wouldn’t do this unless forced to by legislation, you might ask?)

Particularly disturbing in the Sun‘s latest story on the issue, was the response, or lack thereof, from some labor leaders. After leading a walkout last June over the unsafe conditions on Las Vegas construction sites, Building and Construction Trades Executive Secretary-Treasurer Steve Ross decided that drastic action to reform the state OSHA program was not a priority. The Sun reports that:

Ross said early on that he thought neither contractors nor OSHA held the key to safer construction sites. Instead, the key was to change the behavior of workers, and the cultural attitudes toward safety on job sites, he said. And the only way to do that was to require safety training.

“I thought, ‘What is going to change this is to change the safety culture and safety processes, and how craftsmen and women are thinking,’ † Ross said in an interview last week. “We needed that message to be clear.†

At Ross’ request, Assemblyman John Oceguera, who became the Assembly majority leader, held a bill draft open that would require 10 hours of OSHA-certified safety training.

Blame job injuries and deaths on the workers? This is a peculiar attitude for a union representative. Talk to any union health and safety activist around the world and they will tell you that the vast majority of injuries are caused by unsafe conditions combined with lack of adequate enforcement by safety agencies. Sure, safe behavior is something worth promoting and, yes, requiring safety training is useful, but it is far from the solution. From all we have seen of Nevada’s dysfunctional OSHA program, a more systemic approach is needed.

See the full Sun article here.