Paying the consequences

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By Optic Editorial Board

Last week’s determination by the state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau regarding the fatal deaths of Las Vegas city employees Frank Romero and Gene Hern should not be a surprise. Central to OHSB’s accusations is that that was no shoring along the edges of the deep trench — something that a union representative pointed out the day the tragedy occurred.

Particularly disturbing — though, again, not necessarily surprising — is the fact that OHSB is identifying a “willful” violation at the job site: “Employees were exposed to the hazard of working in an excavation at depths greater than five feet ... with no protective measures as required ... to safeguard against trench collapse.” That in itself is the justification for the $63,000 fine recommendation, which makes up most of the $80,100 in fines OHSB is pushing for the four violations it found. (The city has 15 business days to object to the findings and proposed fines, so the matter is not yet resolved.)

Of course, no amount of money can correct the situation. Two men, ages 49 and 32, had their lives cut short by the accident. Nevertheless, the city should expect to pay out even more, as wrongful death lawsuits will almost certainly be filed by the victims’ families.

Ten days after the accident, two city employees were placed on paid leave. The city declined to name them, but the Optic identified them at Hank Segura, the city’s safety officer, and Esteban Medina, the wastewater manager. We won’t point the finger of blame at these two men — that’s something that has yet to be determined — but we will say that anyone found to have acted irresponsibly should face serious consequences.

Bad timing

Las Vegas city officials are warning customers that natural gas bills are likely to go up. Utilities Director Ken Garcia said it’s because the city’s supplier, Zia Natural Gas, is planning to raise its rates. He also said the city can only protest the increase via the state Public Regulation Commission, which has the power to stop it.

We hope the city does in fact protest the rate hike. With winter setting in, demand is going up, so we fail to see Zia’s justification for a 13 percent increase at this moment in time. As colder temperatures move in, the company will see more revenues without doing anything to its rates. We say, keep ‘em flat.