Rusty Billingsley was an ironworker who loved horses and loved his job. He was employed at the massive Las Vegas City Center project, a two-year, $9.2 billion development, the largest privately funded real estate development in this country’s history. Billingsly was sober, skilled, healthy, agile, and highly trained.
He was welding a piece of reinforcement to a steel support beam during high winds. He disengaged his safety belt to find more bolts, and as he walked away, the uneven corrugated temporary floor and high winds caused him to stumble through a nearly four-foot by eleven-foot opening that authorities say should not have been allowed by the contractor. When he fell, a protective net no more than two stories down should have broken his fall. But it had not been put in place. He fell all the way, 59 feet, smashing into the casino floor. He was killed instantly.
Rusty Billingsley was not the first construction worker killed at the Project City Center site that year. In February, March, May and then in October, when Rusty fell, four workers had been killed. In all in less than a year and a half 9 workers were killed because of haste and negligence. But it was all about money. The goal of the project, financed with steep, high-interest construction loans was on a breakneck pace–24 hours a day, 7 days a week to be completed.
The company selected, Perini Construction was the biggest and best at this kind of job, a project 9 times the size of the Empire State Building. So in 2006, it began. Over 18 months, in construction projects on the Las Vegas strip, there were 12 work-related deaths. That came to one death every 6 weeks. Finally, Democratic Senators like Ted Kennedy, then Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Harry Reid and others called the White House and demanded that–at long last–President Bush begin to make his appointees at OSHA stop looking the other way. Did it work?
The deaths stopped immediately and none occurred afterwards. But 12 people died so that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney could meet their obligations to their wealthy construction industry campaign supporters. Sometimes the idea of regulations becomes vague and impersonal. We wonder–why is it so important to have all these regulations anyway? And what happens if no one follows up? Does it really make any difference.
Here is how Nevada OSHA officials followed up on eight of the cases beyond that of Rusty Billingsley. You decide.
Harvey Englander, 65, was an experienced operating engineer working for Perini. On August 9, 2007, he was struck by the counterweight to a manlift, an elevator. Perini was found guilty by OSHA of six safety violations. Nothing happened.
Angel Hernandez and Bobby Lee Tohannie were both carpenters. They were both killed on February 6, 2007, a 7,300 structure designed to support concrete walls collapsed and crushed them inside an elevator shaft. Perini was found guilty by OSHA of not securing the forms properly. They ended up paying a $7,000 fine. Two men dead.
Isidro “Willie” Pelayo was killed on December 6, 2006, when a concrete buggy (cart) overturned and sent him down an elevator shaft at the Trump site. OSHA determined that, once again, Perini had failed to adequately train the employee on the dangers of working with concrete buggies. Cost of Willie Pelayo’s life to Perini…from OSHA regulators…$8,300, and no further action.
Michael Hanson, a laborer working for Taylor International Corp. at Palazzo was killed on November 27, 2007 when a concrete slab smashed into his head. It had been raised up by a forklift–as was the regular practice–despite the fact that such a procedure was deemed dangerous and had been forbidden by OSHA and by the forklift manufacturer. OSHA fined Taylor $6,300…later reduced to $3,780…for killing Michael Hanson.
Michael Taylor, 58, was ironically a safety engineer for the Perini Company on the construction site of the Cosmopolitan structure. On January 14, 2008 he fell five floors when a guardrail system collapsed.
It turned out that Reliable Steel, a subcontractor, had not constructed the guard rail correctly. Reliable Steel contested the OSHA determination of their fault, even though it turned out that they had consistently under reported injuries on their injury logs, another violation. Fine: $2,850 for a dead safety engineer.
Norvin Tsosie, 36, fell from the Fontainbleau on August 2, 2007. Safety harnesses had not been properly attached. Makeshift materials had been used by workers without supervision. Prefab Engineers, cited by OSHA, paid $17, 925 to kill Norvin Tsosie.
On November 27, 2007, David Rabun Jr., 30, an ironworker, fell four floors while replacing bolts on a steel beam at the Cosmopolitan worksite. His employer, Schuff Steel had violated numerous safety regulations, including the failure to put either netting or a deck below that level. OSHA fined Schuff Steel $12, 150 for causing David Rabun’s death.
The fact is that all these companies, working on tight deadlines repeatedly violated safety regulations. Are these regulations important? They probably are to the families of Rusty Billingsley, Harvey Englander, Angel Hernandez, Willie Pelayo, Michael Hanson, Michael Taylor, Norvin Tsosie and David Rabun.
The fact is that this plan, the Project for City Center was too ambitious, too greedy, done too rapidly and planned without the safety of workers in mind. Even the unions, in corrupt Las Vegas stayed out of the way of the big construction companies. So…what is left? Government. Government regulators, with the power to shut down construction. Even the corrupt unions were eventually swayed by their members, forced to act. But government should have been there long before.
Not all regulations have to do with life-or-death matters. But many do. Their failure to be enforced may not result in immediate death or dismemberment, but they will have a deleterious effect on the economy or the lifestyle of the citizens or of the security of the people or of the country.
The fact is that we don’t have a regulation problem in this country. We have a greed problem, as exemplified by the contractors in the Las Vegas project. The major global corporations have told the Republican Party that one of their conditions for the almost unlimited amounts of campaign money they are willing to spend (like $5 million on a state representative’s campaign in Wisconsin) is to eliminate all these kinds of regulations. Let them kill families with toxic waste and kill workers by abandoning all safety rules.
We do have a major political problem. The problem is that we have allowed the Republicans to become so entrenched in local government, in state offices, in the House of Representatives, in Federal judgeships, and on the Supreme Court….that we now have virtually the huge international corporations running our country.
if we don’t change the balance in 2012, with the money that the corporations are using to persuade the ignorant and the bigoted and the religious fanatics to vote against their health care, their Social Security and the gradual disintegration of our infrastructure, there will be nothing left to save by 2016.