Situational ethics exposed during construction claims at the Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas
In 1999, I was working with a major electrical subcontractor on a life-safety system for the Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas after winning a $3 million dollar bid on the project. When I was called upon to be the forensic engineering expert for the subcontractor to prepare a claim during the construction process, it had already spent $8 million with the project only three-fourths complete.
This was the subcontractors first design-built project for a life-safety system of this magnitude, and this was also the first time I wasn’t allowed to talk to the subcontractors field personnel. The problem with this project stemmed because finish trades weren’t allowed to begin working in new areas until the smoke control, heat sensors and strobe lights were activated. Once the devices were activated, the area was released to the trades, who would simply cut the dangling fire protection devices that were hanging from the ceiling grid. This was repeated often. In each case, the subcontractor would have to remove, and reinstall its own work.
From an initial crew of 15, the subcontractors hired over 150 electricians who worked two 12 hour shifts seven days per week. I witnessed considerable shouting at night among their personnel when I walked the job at 2:00AM, and again at 7:00 AM when the crew shifts changed. I recall one shouting match when the foreman of the day shift told the foreman of the night shift:” You guys wasted your time. Now we have to remove all of your work and start over.”
This created delays later during the opening, as the Las Vegas Fire Department did not always agree with the subcontractors placement of devices, and often demanded the to change their locations, and occasionally increase the amount of the required devices.
While all this was going on, the problems at the control room multiplied. Not only did each device require identification and verification of location on the control panel, each device also required identification and test within zones. This was essential for obtaining a temporary occupancy permit. The zones had to be sequenced to operate properly within timing limits established by NFPA codes and the Fire Department. This also included approval of the annunciation system through ceiling speakers that were also tied to zones. As this was a design-build contract, the subcontractor did not understand the correct design requirements, or timing sequence necessary for smoke control, zone requirements, and more. Further, the coordination between the subcontractor’s personnel in the field and at those at the control room resulted in error and missed communication. So many changes were made; so much rework was occurring, it was impossible to identify what was in or not in the different zones until the end of the project. They staff worked at the control panel night and day. Nevertheless, the start up of the project was significantly delayed attributable to the subcontractors problems with operations of their Life Safety system. In the end, the subcontractor’s final cost exceeded 12 million dollars at the time of my departure as their forensic engineering expert.
After six months on the project, it was obvious that: (1) the subcontractor’s attorney did not have the knowledge or documentation necessary to support a claim of this nature. (2) The accountant assigned to the case erred regarding substantial facts relating to cost (3) My own employer refused my attempts to record facts, or accumulate data from the subcontractor’s files. I observed incomplete and inaccurate handwritten time sheets on the job site several days after the work was completed, but no effort was made to correct this situation after my repeated requests.(4) No attempt was made to identify inefficiencies within the subcontractor’s labor, or production, or to develop a strategy for identifying accuracy of labor man-hours shown in the estimate (5) Interviews with one of the subcontractors provided evidence that their crews were being directed to double in size at the same time that access was denied in work areas scheduled by another contractor (6) the subcontractor’s electrical boxes in several floors of the Hotel had to be removed, rewired and reset attributable to their failure to consider enough space for the fabric wall-covering to fit properly under the edges of the boxes. Accepted practice includes leaving enough slack in the wire to reset electrical boxes. The subcontractor’s failure in this and other matters was one of the reasons for their cost overruns.
To make matters worse, they put the occupants of the first five floors of the hotel portion of work at risk by disconnecting a riser which had to be relocated, leaving no fire protection for the partially occupied Hotel building during the change-over. Prior to this occurrence, I prepared a letter for the subcontractors signature regarding the need to provide fire watch and notify all responsible parties including the fire department. My protesting regarding the urgency of protecting the public during this critical change-over was ignored. The risks taken by both the subcontractor and my former employer are an indication of willful negligence that could have resulted in death to the public in the event of fire. I felt obligated to testify on this issue as a material witness after the project was completed, but had no factual proof of my observations since all documentation was in the possession of my employer, who claimed they could not find it.
Since the risk did not result in death or damage, no action was taken.
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Tourism)
Post by Paul Gogulski