Safety first and always

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By Optic Editorial Board

As details unfold regarding the trench that collapsed on two Las Vegas employees, causing their deaths, it’s becoming more apparent that this accident didn’t have to happen. And while we agree with City Attorney David Romero, who has said it’s premature to make judgments about what exactly occurred, we can also see that there are plenty of reasons to suspect that basic safety precautions were not followed.

Last Wednesday, city utilities employees Frank Romero and Gene Hern were killed when the deep trench they were in collapsed and buried them. An investigator with the state Environment Department reportedly found no shoring around the trenches, a clear violation of state safety standards. Moreover, a union representative has said if the safety requirements had been followed at the job site, Romero and Hern would be alive today. Indeed, it’s hard to see it any other way.

More details are going to come out in the days and weeks ahead, and in the wrongful death lawsuits that are likely to be filed. More likely than not, the city will end up paying monetarily for the mistakes made at the worksite, which means taxpayers may end up footing the bill for it all.

Of course, this is about a lot more than money. Two men were killed, and all the money in the world can’t change that. Our hearts are with the families of these victims as they try to recover from their devastating losses.

City officials, however, need to take a hard look at this accident and take steps to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. An internal investigation to ascertain cause and responsibility must be mounted. The city needs to examine its own safety standards and figure out, without scapegoating, who was responsible for making sure they were in place. Those in supervisory positions who knew or should have known that Romero and Hern were entering an unsafe trench should be held accountable for their inaction.

Moreover, the city needs to perform a thorough, top-down review of all its workplace safety practices, in every department, to ensure that nothing like this happens again. Preventive measures should be taken at every level, and supervisors at every job site should be well-versed in OSHA and other requirements.

Romero and Hern can’t be brought back, but their deaths can still mean something. Never again should such a tragedy occur.