Las Vegas Sun

December 2, 2015

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Lawmaker: GAO report shows lives, safety of Nevada workers at risk

Dina Titus

Dina Titus

WASHINGTON —Lawmakers are reintroducing a bill to expand the federal government’s ability to assist states in performing their workplace safety oversight obligations, after a government report indicated Nevada was falling woefully short of its goals.

According to a Government Accountability Office report released this week, Nevada conducted only 59 percent of the 2,132 inspections it aimed to conduct in 2011, and barely two-thirds of the inspections it aimed to conduct last year, even after lowering expectations to an annual goal total of 1,900.

And Nevada has one of the worst state track records when it comes to retaining experienced personnel: More than half of the state’s safety inspectors — and at the GAO’s last fiscal 2013 count, the state only had 21 — have less than five years’ experience on the job.

“It is concerning that GAO found several unresolved problems in Nevada’s worker safety program that are putting workers’ lives and safety at risk,” said Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, a bill co-sponsor. “Congress needs to ensure that all states, including Nevada, have the resources they need to protect workers and then follow through with appropriate remedies to problems uncovered.”

GAO has been closely monitoring the activities Nevada’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration since 2009, a probe that began after the Las Vegas Sun published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories that revealed how the failures of government, management and unions contributed to several deaths at construction sites along the Las Vegas Strip.

The report blamed budget cuts, but also poor prioritization of resources, for contributing to Nevada’s disappointing performance results.

“Nevada’s challenges have persisted, even though the state matched its federal OSHA grant,” the GAO authors wrote, noting how Nevada had put more than $3 million into revitalizing its workplace oversight in the last few years.

But according to OSHA, Nevada was never able to spend the money on rebuilding. Instead, it spent significant funds on training new hires, but not enough on paying for travel to worksites and setting competitive salaries for the inspectors — many of whom quickly turn around and take higher-paying jobs in the private sector. (A safety inspector in Nevada makes an average of $39,724 per year.)

Thus the count of Nevada’s team of safety inspectors fell, from 28 to 21 between fiscal 2012 and 2013, when federal officials had expected it to rise to 32 inspectors. Because those inspectors are compelled to respond to the riskiest worksites first, Nevada’s completion rate of regularly programmed checks fell to 17 percent of the workplaces under its authority.

Nevada is one of 22 states that is in charge of its own workplace monitoring, while other states depend on the federal government.

Should federal overseers determine Nevada’s system is failing, the federal OSHA has the right to take over running the process.

The bill would create a mechanism for partial federal intervention, so the government could guide flailing states through a more effective policy to address shortfalls, before forcing a transfer of all authority to the federal government.

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