Pulitzer Prizes are awarded annually for excellence in public interest journalism, but seldom are they given for reporting on occupational safety and health. This year is different.
Reporter Alexandra Berzon and the Las Vegas Sun won the Pulitzer for exposing the high fatality rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip. The paper’s exposés led to improved conditions at work, Congressional hearings and a review of state oversight.
Beginning with Pace is the new peril on March 30, 2008, the paper ran 11 major pieces by Berzon on work conditions and death on the world-famous casino boulevard. The last story – Evidence of change: Six months, no fatalities – on December 28th, noted that although 12 workers died in the 18 months before a union walkout in June, none were killed in the ensuing six months. The story summarized a variety of factors that reversed the tide.
Berzon’s series also won the 2008 Story of the Year, News Feature of the Year and First Amendment awards from the Nevada Press Association.
The only other Pulitzer awarded in the last 60 years for reporting on occupational safety and health was given in 2004 to David Barstow and Lowell Bergman of the New York Times. Ironically, their story was in the news again last week. They won for a three-part series that exposed the rampant abuse of workplace safety and environmental regulations at McWane, Inc., a cast iron pipe manufacturer with facilities in Texas, Alabama and New Jersey. Last week, four McWane executives were sentenced to jail for criminal violations of environmental law (see story, this issue of LIFELINES ONLINE).