...faster. A typical 38-month project in Atlantic City would be expected to finish six to eight months sooner in Las Vegas. That is the standard that has been created.”

Casino giants such as MGM Mirage pay for fast-track, 24-hour construction, and contract terms include incentives and penalties. Perini, for instance, is general contractor on the $3.9-billion Cosmopolitan Resort & Casino, located directly across from CityCenter. Both are being built under negotiated guaranteed- maximum-price contracts, and Cosmopolitan carries $50,000 a day in possible bonuses or penalties starting Dec.18, 2009. Like CityCenter, crews work around the clock. Cosmopolitan has had two jobsite deaths since November.

Contractor Perini Corp. agreed to provide OSHA 10-hour training to all.
Contractor Perini Corp. agreed to provide OSHA 10-hour training to all.

Superhuman Schedules

“Owners of these projects are demand-ing some pretty strict schedules,” says McClelland. “[They] have actually mandated certain performance indicators and minimum numbers of work hours in the contract.”

Some see the project schedules as unrealistic. CityCenter, for example, is being built in the same time frame that it took to complete the adjacent $1.6-billion, 37-story Bellagio Resort Casino, which is only one building encompassing 25% the amount of space.

In the field, crafts sometimes feel pressured by project managers, superintendents and fellow workers to meet schedule milestones. Verbal jabs, intimidation and peer pressure are used to prod workers onward. Those who fall behind can become targets of ridicule or risk being reassigned to undesirable tasks that are viewed as punishment or retribution.

How much a big contractor or project owner is responsible for jobsite safety remains unclear, and that is part of the problem. Owners and construction managers could be considered “controlling employers” for safety purposes under multi-employer worksite rules, but they have not been enforced, says one safety expert. Perini Corp. has had more accidents than any other Strip contractor. Company officials declined to comment for this story, but they previously have said they are doing all they can to protect workers and that each loss is painful.

Since the uproar over the accidents, Perini is paying for everyone at CityCenter to receive the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 10-hour safety training, and the company has placed many more safety staff on site.

Although Perini had ramped up its safety spending in recent years, it had yet to develop the elaborate, written safety mission and culture that some other big construction employers have. “I don’t think there was much more than lip service paid to safety on those jobs before the strike,” says Steve Holloway, executive vice president of the Las Vegas Chapter of the Associated General Contractors. Perini is not an AGC member nor part of its multi-employer collective-bargaining unit.

At the site, workers blame management and employers blame workers for the breakdown in the safety culture, says a safety researcher who has visited the Las Vegas sites to investigate the problems.

Whatever the reason for the failure, the safety battle cry is finally being heard. “We now have carpenters whose hammers are tethered to them so that they don’t get dropped and hit someone,” says Marc Furman of the carpenters’ union. “Everyone is now tied off.”