In light of a new government report highlighting what he called “dangerous gaps in health and safety protections for workers in Nevada,” U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, announced the committee will hold a hearing on Thursday, October 29 to examine federal OSHA’s critical review of Nevada’s workplace health and safety program.

“This report confirms that there are serious problems with Nevada OSHA that need to be addressed immediately,” said Miller. “Workers in Nevada deserve to know that basic health and safety protections are enforced by the agency tasked to protect them.”

Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, a state can operate their own workplace health and safety program as long as they meet basic federal minimum standards. Twenty-two states and territories operate such programs and are partially funded by the federal government.

OSHA reviewed Nevada’s state program between January 1, 2008 and June 1, 2009. This is OSHA’s most significant review of a state program since 1991when OSHA initiated steps to take over the North Carolina’s health and safety program after a poultry plant fire killed 25 people. The review found among other things that over the period:

  • No willful or repeat citations were made and were even discouraged. Willful violations carry significantly higher penalties;
  • In nearly half of all fatality cases, family members of the fallen workers were not contacted or given the opportunity to speak with investigators;
  • Clear cases of repeat violations were not cited. For example, OSHA issued serious violations in the Orleans Casino case rather than willful or repeat violations even though the owner and operator of this hotel had same violations other facilities in Nevada;
  • Even when Nevada OSHA cited a workplace for a health and safety violation, they could not demonstrate that those workplaces were abated correctly; and
  • Nevada OSHA investigators were not properly trained on construction hazards.

The Education and Labor Committee first examined construction safety problems in a 2008 hearing, including a string of deaths during the recent building boom on the Las Vegas strip. The hearing found that even when Nevada issued fines to employers for operating an unsafe workplace, those sanctions were often later reduced or even eliminated.