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Workplace safety concerns drove whistle-blower

When workers for Harrah’s Las Vegas were exposed to asbestos, it was Fred Frazzetta who went to his superiors before he turned to state regulators. They fined the resort $11,500 for 18 workplace safety violations.

Dozens saw a floor at the Rio, also owned by Harrah’s Entertainment, gutted for remodeling to larger, modern suites, but it was Frazzetta who questioned whether the work was done without proper permits or inspections and whether public safety was at risk.

He insists others knew what he knew, but it was Frazzetta who phoned the employee hot line and brought his concerns to company officials before he was demoted and then fired last year after being accused of stealing light bulbs.

As he continued trying to point out the problems, two television news stations turned away Frazzetta before he took his concerns to the Review-Journal last summer, he said.

“I would hope anybody in my situation would do the same thing,” Frazzetta said. “I don’t see myself as a hero. It’s either right or wrong. People could have been harmed and I just tried to do the right thing, but it’s been a year and a half and it’s still not done. I would encourage other people to come forward and do the same thing. If this place (Las Vegas) is going to get cleaned up, it’s not going to get done by one person.”

Since the stories on construction violations at Harrah’s on the Strip and the Rio first hit the newspaper in October, the company closed 700 rooms while it corrected problems Frazzetta helped bring to light; Harrah’s closed its remodeling department; Harrah’s chief executive called the remodeling controversy the “most disturbing issues” the company faced in five years; the county cited Harrah’s employees as part of ongoing investigations; and an auditor is examining the county’s oversight of the construction.

“Not only did they do it, but they left behind real public-safety hazards that have been documented by the Fire Department and the building department,” Frazzetta said. “It’s a multibillion-dollar company. They have a responsibility to their employees and guests to make sure the workplace is safe.”

Meanwhile, Frazzetta, an electrician, who friends say is an avid hiker and rock climber, is unemployed and without a place to call home as a result.

Josh Costello, a former Harrah’s employee who is now a police officer, said Frazzetta is not like most of his former colleagues. He is not as desperate for the job with Harrah’s, and he truly believes in doing the right thing, Costello said.

“He wanted to see what was right, done. And, when they (Harrah’s) didn’t do it, he told me he was going to take matters into his own hands and he did,” Costello said. “Do I think what he has done is noble and just? Yes, I do.”

Frazzetta’s documented disclosures about construction shortcuts have put the spotlight on the company and the county, but top administrators from each applauded Frazzetta’s courage and determination.

“Fred needs to be commended on seeing something he thought was not right, going to management and telling them. Even when he wasn’t being heard, he didn’t give up. He kept pushing,” said Jan Jones, an executive vice president for Harrah’s and former mayor of Las Vegas. “We are a community that lives by rules. … He reminded us once again; there are rules.”

County Manager Virginia Valentine, in a prepared statement, said Frazzetta’s efforts improved public safety and have compelled the county to improve its investigations into complaints of construction flaws.

Valentine states, “Fred was tenacious in his pursuit of drawing attention to problems at some properties owned by Harrah’s. He spent countless hours of his personal time and energy without personal gain. Fred’s efforts resulted in corrective actions now under way to obtain appropriate building permits and to bring unpermitted remodeling work up to code.”

Frazzetta said he opened eyes to the flaws in some of the many remodeling projects on the Strip in recent years. But, he said, genuine reform will take hold only after fines are increased dramatically for violations of workplace safety and building and fire codes; more criminal charges are brought against violators; and a message is sent that it is less expensive to do the work right the first time.

“I don’t think Harrah’s is the only company to do this,” Frazzetta said. “It hasn’t brought about true reform until there are changes in the law. The fines are so low it makes more sense for the bean counters to recommend to the company to go ahead (with construction) and to not worry about the fines.”

Saturday: Four pharmacy students started an organization to discourage young people from abusing prescription drugs.

 

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