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April 18, 2015

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Dina Titus introduces worker safety oversight bill


Richard Brian / File photo

The CityCenter project is shown in May 2008, shortly after an ironworker died after falling 59 feet through a hole in a floor. An OSHA-required backup deck or netting was not in place at the time.

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Dina Titus

Dina Titus

Rep. Dina Titus introduced a bill this morning that would give the federal government more flexibility in its oversight of state workplace safety programs.

The reform legislation is important to Nevada because of the state's poor track record when it comes to keeping workers safe on the job -- and follows House hearings last year on the failings of the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

A Labor Department report last year painted the workplace safety agency as incompetent and ineffective in the wake of a deadly building boom.

The federal probe examined the agency’s oversight of 25 workplace deaths in the state over an 18-month period. It found the state’s staff ill-equipped to investigate accidents and administrators unwilling to impose hefty penalties on companies.

At stake: Nevada’s control over the workplace-safety program. Nevada is one of 22 states operating such a program, which is supposed to protect private and public employees. The federal government shoulders the responsibility in all other states.

Federal OSHA has required the state to make changes to its program. But under current law, federal officials have only one option if the state fails to improve: terminate the state workplace-safety plan and take over. Titus called such a measure a "drastic step that would ... leave state and local government employees unprotected" and put the Labor Department on the hook for federal funding.

Titus' bill, dubbed the Ensuring Worker Safety Act, would create "a formal mechanism" to allow federal OSHA to step in, identify problems with state programs and exercise oversight without stripping states of day-to-day control.

The legislation would also establish a regular General Accountability Office audit of both state programs and the Labor Department's oversight.

The actions follow the Sun’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series last year that examined Strip construction deaths and exposed the failures of government, management and labor unions to protect workers.

“The tragic deaths of numerous workers in Southern Nevada highlighted the need to ensure that state OSHA plans are doing their job of protecting workers,” Titus said in statement. “Unfortunately under current law, federal OSHA is left with only two options, both at the extreme end of the spectrum, when it finds state plans that are ineffective. This legislation provides OSHA with an important middle ground so it is not left with the choice of doing nothing or the drastic step of terminating a state plan.”

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