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Man who quit over Orleans deaths on OSHA ‘watch list’

Don Barker, the former health and safety manager for Boyd Gaming who quit his position in protest over the company’s handling of safety issues following the death of two workers at The Orleans, has had his authorization to teach Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety courses revoked by the federal government.

Barker was placed on a new OSHA “watch list” and can no longer teach federal safety courses after he was found not to be in compliance with program guidelines for OSHA-10 training, including advising students not to report safety hazards, the U.S. Labor Department announced Thursday.

During an undercover investigation, inspectors found that Barker, who the department said was working for Thor Construction of Las Vegas, was “submitting falsified information regarding the instructional time spent on the topics, failing to collect and retain required documentation and inappropriately advising students not to contact OSHA to report hazards.”

Barker, who is listed as Thor’s environmental health and safety director on the company’s Web site, could not be reached for comment Thursday night. The announcement said he is not appealing the decision to revoke his teaching authorization.

“Trainers who fail to provide appropriate safety training will pay a stiff price for their fraudulent behavior,” Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said in a statement. “A tighter record control procedure has been instituted requiring trainers to sign their reports and certify the class was conducted in accordance with OSHA’s guidelines. Trainers face civil and criminal penalties under federal law if reports or certifications are found to have been falsified.”

Barker came to prominence during a state OSHA investigation into the deaths of two workers at The Orleans in February 2007.

The deaths occurred after a maintenance worker descended into a manhole leading to a sewer pit and succumbed to gas fumes.

Two more Orleans workers were sent into the sewer to rescue the worker but also fell unconscious. One of those workers died, but the third was hospitalized and recovered.

Some witnesses said supervisors ordered the two workers into the wastewater pit.

A March 2007 memo by a Nevada OSHA investigator said Barker showed “indifference” to the workers’ safety by ordering the men into the sewer.

Barker told the investigator, according to a report, that his superiors at Boyd prevented him from following safety regulations regarding procedures on sending workers into confined spaces such as the wastewater pit.

“During a conversation with Don Barker, he claimed that he was unable to correct the confined spaces issue due to interference from upper level management within Boyd and at The Orleans,” the report states.

Thor is a national construction company with offices in four states including Nevada. The company entered the local market in 2001 and has worked on various projects including those for MGM Mirage, Harrah’s Entertainment and Station Casinos.

According to Thor’s Web site, the company worked on the CityCenter sales office.

Thor officials did not return a call for comment by deadline.

Gov. Jim Gibbons signed a bill in June requiring all construction workers and supervisors to attend health and safety course training within 15 days of being hired to work on a construction project.

The bill followed a string of 12 construction deaths along the Strip between December 2006 and June 2008.

The deaths led to a 24-hour strike by the 17 affiliated unions of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council working on the CityCenter and Cosmopolitan projects.

One of the demands, which was agreed to, was that all workers on the project receive OSHA training.

Building Trades Secretary-Treasurer Steve Ross said there has been a problem with workers obtaining false OSHA-10 documentation, but to have an instructor cutting corners in training and telling workers not to report hazards is unacceptable.

“We have worked our butts off to pass some legislation in the state of Nevada,” Ross said. “For trainers to play these ridiculous games and instruct students not to contact OSHA to report hazards, oh my goodness.”

Trainers receive authorization to teach OSHA-10 and OSHA-30 programs after completing a one-week course through an OSHA Training Institute Education Center.

More than 16,000 independent trainers in the United States are authorized to conduct OSHA-10 classes and provide workers completion cards at the end of training.

Barker is one of four names on the national watch list. The other three are in New York state.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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