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The Cost of Construction

july-june07-citycenter-sfs_casino_resort_eiffel_view.jpg

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CityCenter under construction in 2007. A new documentary looks at safety at construction sites like this one.

A new documentary film, "The Cost of Construction," explores working conditions at construction sites around the nation.

The film’s focus is the construction of CityCenter - a joint project of MGM Resorts International and Dubai World -- here in Las Vegas, and the deaths of workers at the site almost ten years ago.

CityCenter started construction in 2006 and was finished in 2009. Reporter Alexandra Berzon was working at the Las Vegas Sun at the time of the construction and documented many of the questions surrounding safety at the site.

She said the break neck speed of the construction was remarkable and the sheer size of the project was also astonishing. At one time, the megaresort was home to six separate towers. 

However, after structural problems were found in the Harmon Tower, that tower had to be taken down. Now, five towers fill the site. 

The film's director Jordan Ehrlich told KNPR's State of Nevada that getting a wide shot of the entire construction site was difficult to get because of its size.

Behind the scenes shot of our helicopter shoot over the CityCenter with Jordan Ehrlich filming/Courtesy: Jordan Ehrlich

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Ehrlich said he decided to focus on Las Vegas and the CityCenter project because the issues "were so interesting and so deep and so complex and so big on scale."

He said what was going on in Las Vegas was reflective of what was going on around the country. 

One of the biggest problems with construction safety is accountability when something does go wrong, both Ehrlich and Berzon said.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA comes in after an accident to find out what went wrong and hand out citations to construction companies. However, Berzon said it was a common practice for construction companies to tell OSHA they were going to do better and the agency would then cut back on the number of citations or cancel all of them.

This practice left families of those hurt or killed struggling to find someone accountable.

“It’s incredibly difficult for the families to get to that point to even find a lawyer who would be willing to take those cases because they’re very, very difficult cases,” she said.

Berzon said there is a high bar for legal action in those types of cases and the accident would have to be extraordinary before any court cases would get very far. 

She said there have been changes at OSHA in Nevada and the Obama Administration took a more aggressive approach with national OSHA than the Bush Administration before it, which is when CityCenter was under construction.

The number of construction accidents across the country has fallen over the past few years, but so has the number of large construction projects as the economy slowed.

Berzon said it is not that simple to say more regulation is needed. Some people think there is already too much safety regulations at construction sites.

“It is a complicated question of what exactly leads to safer work sites and what role the government has for that,” she said.

She said will be interesting to see what happens now as the economy picks up and so does construction. 

Fireworks explode over CityCenter when it opened in 2009/Associated Press

 

Guests

Jordan Ehrlich, director of the documentary film, "The Cost of Construction"; Alexandra Berzon, Wall Street Journal reporter based in Los Angeles. Her coverage of the deaths and working conditions at CityCenter earned her and The Las Vegas Sun the Pulitzer and Hillman prizes.

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