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Arnold M. Knightly

Safety chief sidesteps talk of Strip deaths

11 June 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration spoke Tuesday at a conference of safety engineers but avoided any discussion about a string of construction site fatalities that sparked a one-day walkout at two Strip projects.

Edwin Foulke Jr., assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, had been scheduled to participate in three panel discussions Tuesday at the 47th Annual American Society of Safety Engineers conference.

However, Department of Labor spokeswoman Deanna Amaden said Foulke would address neither the deaths at CityCenter and the Cosmopolitan nor the subsequent strike over worker safety issues during his two-day trip to Las Vegas.

Foulke's appearances Tuesday, which were scheduled months ago, also follows Monday's arrival of compliance safety officials from the federal agency who will work with Nevada OSHA officials on a comprehensive inspection of the $9.2 billion CityCenter job site.

Amaden said any comments from Foulke about safety issues at the two Strip sites would not be appropriate now because Nevada OSHA is taking the lead on the investigation with help from the federal agency.

However, she said Foulke is paying attention to the situation in Las Vegas, and to recent construction deaths in Miami and New York City.

Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council spokesman Steve Redlinger said the council, which is an alliance of 17 affiliated construction unions, is "baffled" that a "public servant is unwilling to address public concerns."

Redlinger said union officials have heard that Foulke will be meeting with several contractors today. However, none of the unions involved in the two Strip construction projects have any meetings scheduled with Foulke.

"We feel the fact he doesn't seem willing to meet with us to discuss obvious concerns is a slap in the face," Redlinger said.

"We also have a role in safety," Redlinger said of the unions.

Although Foulke did not discuss the recent deaths at the local job sites, he did say in remarks during the panel discussions that all companies need to look for areas where they're having problems with worker safety to prevent illnesses, injuries and fatalities.

"It has to be a bottom-line issue more than anything else," Foulke during one session called "OSHA: Business of Safety."

Foulke's arrival comes one week after union workers walked off the job for 24 hours at MGM Mirage's CityCenter project and the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan because of work safety issues. The workers returned to work after Perini Building Co., the general contractor on both projects, agreed to fund a safety review of the work sites, provide safety training for all workers and to allow union and safety officials on site at all times.

Eight workers have died on the two job sites in the past 16 months, most recently on May 24 at CityCenter.