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Nevada Construction Industry Unites To Work Safely Amid Pandemic

Courtesy Madison Square Garden Co.

Nearly 1,000 Las Vegas construction workers lost their jobs when the MSG Sphere project shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

A pair of Nevada construction industry leaders say there’s more risk from the coronavirus at the gas station or grocery store than on a construction site.

Carpenters Union official Frank Hawk and Guy Martin, president of Martin-Harris Construction, told State of Nevada they are confident in safety precautions put in place since the outbreak of the pandemic.

“I feel safer walking on one of these big projects than I do say going into the gas station or the grocery store,” Hawk said, “because everybody that’s out there — every single employee that is out there on these job sites — are all OSHA-certified professionals.”

Hawk said employers have added hand-washing stations and extra portable bathrooms. They've also increased cleaning schedules and brought on safety managers to make sure people are following the social distancing protocols.

“I can’t say for sure that we can watch over every single person to make sure they don’t eat lunch together but it’s being drilled in their head day in and day out. And also there are people out there that have the authority to fire them from the project if they aren’t practicing safe distancing,” he said.

Gov. Steve Sisolak chose Hawk, a United Brotherhood of Carpenters regional vice president, to assemble a group of construction industry stakeholders and develop best practices in protecting against the coronavirus.

Martin, who echoed Hawk’s faith in construction site safety practices, said labor-management and regional differences have been put aside by members of the task force.

“When a tradesman or woman walks on that site, they can trust that leadership has done everything they can to keep that crew safe,” Martin said.

The construction industry learned some valuable lessons during the Great Recession, Martin said. One of those lessons is that no one wants to go through the demoralizing feeling of not having a paycheck. 

He believes if they can keep the sites clean and free of the disease then construction sites won't have to be shut down.

“We’re making sure our folks are coming on site safe and leave safe every day through this,” he said.

Besides adding bathrooms and hand-washing stations, construction companies are staggering their workforce so fewer people are on the site at any given time.

That move isn't going to cost the companies more money but it could hurt schedules for projects.

“Where things begin to change in the face of this is projects are taking longer because we don’t have as many concurrent events, as many of the same things going on at the same time as we would normally,” Martin said.

Martin believes some of the safety protocols that are being implemented could still stick around long after the coronavirus outbreak has been contained. 

He said the construction industry doesn't reverse policies that make people safer.

“I think that our industry being right out front in taking these steps and taking these corrective measures and creating a safer environment inside the fences of our work area than outside in the public I think that’s just us showing that we are the leaders and we’ll be there for our folks and we’ll take care of them,” he said.

Frank Hawk, vice president, United Brotherhood of Carpenters' Southwest Regional Council;  Guy Martin, president, Martin-Harris Construction

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.