Feds review Nevada OSHA plan

A federal task force has been in town the past two weeks reviewing Nevada's job safety and health plan as part of a special study in the wake of a series of construction accidents and deaths.

The U.S. Department of Labor confirmed Tuesday that four officials are gathering information about Nevada's plan and the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"We've been at their offices reviewing a variety of materials on a number of issues for their practices of investigating workplace accidents," department spokeswoman Deanna Amaden said.

She said the federal government is not considering taking over the Nevada OSHA.

"They're cooperating with us on everything we're doing so there would be no reason to even consider having the federal government take over Nevada OSHA," Amaden said.

The department plans to issue a report in a month that will include the task force's findings and recommendations to the state.

The task force is the result of a June conversation between Jordan Barab, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of labor, OSHA Region Nine Administrator Ken Atha and Donald Jayne, the new Nevada Industrial Relations Division administrator.

Jayne said the state agency welcomes the federal agency's scrutiny of the state's safety plan.

"They were desirous of coming in and performing a special study and looking at our procedures and reviewing the procedures here and talking to some of the folks and seeing if there's any procedural problems that we have," said Jayne, who took over the division overseeing Nevada OSHA 41/2 months ago. "From that standpoint, I'm viewing the relationship with the federal OSHA folks as a partnership. It brings me another set of eyes."

Federal law encourages states to develop and operate their own job-safety programs, which have to be approved and monitored by the federal OSHA.

The U.S. labor secretary can withdraw approval of a state's plan, but only after holding a hearing. A state could appeal the secretary's decision to U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

No state plan's approval has ever been withdrawn, though.

"It takes a great deal because once that state plan has gone through the rigorous process of getting federal approval, it's not something we take lightly and go back on," Amaden said. "There is no cause for us to consider something like that right now."

The Labor Department conducts regular reviews of state agencies, sometimes as frequently as once a quarter, Amaden said.

The task force is in town while Jayne is interviewing candidates to head the state OSHA agency. The former administrator, Tom Czehowski, departed in May.

This is the second time in 14 months that federal OSHA has come in to look over the shoulder of state OSHA.

Federal OSHA assisted state officials with a comprehensive inspection of the CityCenter job site in June 2008 after six workers died there between February 2008 and May 2008. Two more workers died at the neighboring Cosmopolitan project. The deaths led to a 24-hour strike by the 17 affiliated unions of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council.

"I don't have a perspective for what it was like to live through that series of events (construction deaths)," Jayne said.

She said that she is not concerned about the task force's visit this time.

"From my perspective, (federal OSHA review) really is not argumentative. They didn't have to convince me to come out and look at the procedural compliance of the operations here," she said. "It's not something that's controversial that I'm fighting."

State lawmakers proposed some changes for state OSHA during the last legislative session, although most of the proposed changes were scaled back in final legislation or did not become law.

Gov. Jim Gibbons signed a bill in June requiring all construction workers and supervisors to attend health and safety course training within 15 days of being hired.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.