Feds: Nevada workplace safety woefully lacking

Nevada's workplace safety program is marred by poorly trained investigators and lackadaisical procedures and is in "urgent" need of oversight corrections, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

The 80-page report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration identified "a number of systemic issues that caused great concern" within the state OSHA program.

Among them are inspectors with "limited knowledge" of construction safety hazards, lack of follow-up investigations and failure to issue citations for willful and repeat workplace safety violations.

Donald Jayne, Nevada Division of Industrial Relations administrator, and Steve Coffield, state OSHA chief administrative officer, said they welcomed the findings and would work to improve the agency's operations.

"We are committed to making the corrections they have pointed out," Coffield told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Other report findings:

• During the evaluation time period, only one willful violation was cited by the state agency, and it was later reclassified and the fine reduced from $70,000 to $15,000. State investigators said they are "discouraged" from pursing willful violations by management and legal counsel.

In a written response included with the report, state officials denied discouraging severe citations, but acknowledged an "appropriate level of proof" is necessary to sustain them through legal reviews.

• Two inspectors conducted fatality investigations without having taken accident investigation training.

• The Nevada Legislature and state agency put too much emphasis on the number of inspections to gauge effectiveness. Consequently, each inspector conducts 95-115 inspections a year, "far too many per investigator to do a thorough job."

• Some longtime employees have not taken some of the basic courses that investigators should take.

• For planned, or programmed, inspections, Nevada's average of serious safety violations was 26 percent, compared with 79 percent for the federal OSHA.

The federal review was launched after 25 construction workers in Nevada, many on high-rise projects along the Las Vegas Strip, including six at one site alone, were killed from January 2008 through June 2009.

"The comprehensive evaluation of the Nevada OSHA plan points to an urgent need for corrections in oversight and changes in all phases of its workplace safety and health program," the report said.

Jordan Barab, acting assistant OSHA secretary in Washington, D.C., said the agency plans to strengthen oversight, monitoring and evaluation of all state programs in light of the deficiencies discovered by the Nevada review.

This summer, OSHA monitors evaluated Nevada's investigations into the Las Vegas construction deaths, as well all state OSHA inspections during the same period. State officials cooperated in the evaluation.

Regarding the deaths, the federal report said families of deceased workers were not notified of the death investigations or given an opportunity to speak with inspectors, "though family members may provide information pertinent to a case and Nevada OSHA investigators demonstrated limited knowledge of construction safety hazards."

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