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Arnold M. Knightly

Ironworkers ask OSHA to reinstate safety penalties

10 June 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- An alliance of ironworker unions from four states including Nevada is asking federal OSHA officials to rescind directives that removed penalties for a pair of safety standards the union claims are crucial to steel workers' safety.

"We were shocked and disappointed that OSHA would issue compliance directives that remove safety provisions for the steel erection industry," District Council of Iron Workers President Joe Standley said. "These compliance directives continue to be a source of regulatory confusion, costly job site delays and unnecessary litigation."

The federal directives, issued in the mid-1990s, supercede Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, and say contractors should not be cited for failure to comply with the standards.

The two safety standards at issue require that flooring or nets be placed at least 30 feet below workers doing any high-rise work and that metal decking or other work surfaces be installed before any steel connectors or other possible tripping hazards can be installed.

Standley announced the alliance's request Monday at a news conference held the day before Edwin Foulke, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, is to speak about workplace safety at the annual American Society of Safety Engineers Conference at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Las Vegas Hilton.

"We are outraged with the news that Mr. Foulke would come to Las Vegas to pontificate about fatalities and workplace safety matters," Standley said. "He has refused to rescind OSHA compliance directives that have been at the center of controversy in Las Vegas."

Foulke could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

However, Jim Stanley, former deputy assistant secretary of labor of OSHA, said after Standley's speech that the directives need to be rescinded.

"It is an issue that has to be brought out," said Stanley, who worked at OSHA from 1971 until 1995. "The ironworkers have tried. They have gone to the agency many times to explain their position. You're lessening the protection of the workers, why would you do this?"

The comments come one week after members of an alliance of union workers walked off the job for 24 hours at the $9.2 billion CityCenter project and the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan because of work safety issues.

Eight construction workers have died during the past 16 months at the two Strip construction sites.

The strike ended last Tuesday afternoon when the projects' contractor, Perini Building Corp., agreed to pay for a safety review of the work sites, conduct on-site training for all construction workers, and agreed to give union and safety officials full access to the work sites.

On Monday, federal OSHA health and safety officers were scheduled to join Nevada OSHA officials to help complete a comprehensive inspection of the CityCenter job site.

The federal inspectors were asked by Nevada's OSHA to join the effort after last week's strike.