The announcement this week that federal OSHA will open an office in Las Vegas marks the agency's return to Nevada after a seven-year absence, a return the state's top OSHA official welcomes.
Steve Coffield, chief administrative officer for the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Thursday that having the federal office so close will benefit the state and its workers.
Federal officials closed its office in Carson City in 2003, consolidating operations in offices in California.
To people inside the state agency, Tuesday's announcement was not news.
Coffield's boss, Nevada Division of Industrial Relations Administrator Donald Jayne, said he was told the office was coming when he was hired in March 2009. Coffield said he heard about it before Jayne's arrival.
"To bring an office back into Nevada sure does make sense," Jayne said. "To locate the office in Las Vegas as opposed to anywhere else in Nevada just makes sense."
Four administrative workers would staff the office that is scheduled to open in July, Jayne said. It would not involve bringing more inspectors to the state.
The office's return follows an increased presence of federal officials during the past few years largely due a series of construction deaths along the Strip during the construction boom. Federal OSHA officials assisted the state agency with a comprehensive inspection of the CityCenter job site in June 2008 after six workers died there between February and May 2008. Two more workers died at the neighboring Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas project.
In July 2009, a U.S. Department of Labor task force arrived to review the state's job safety and health plan as part of a special investigation looking into the deaths and other workplace accidents.
The federal agency's October report was critical of Nevada OSHA and described "an urgent need for corrections in oversight and changes in all phases" in Nevada's safety program.
"When we found serious deficiencies in the way the state of Nevada was operating its safety and health program, it was necessary to take action," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA.
Coffield was surprised by the tone of the comments considering the state agency has been working hard to address concerns since his own promotion in September.
"We don't know what Dr. Michaels meant," Coffield said. "We thought his comments were a little bit harsh given the fact that we've known this was coming for a long time. We've been working with them in an open relationship, trying to resolve our difficulties and we believe we've been doing a good job."
Rep. Dina Titus, DNev., said in a statement that the fed office in Las Vegas is much needed.
"It is clear from Nevada OSHA's record that it has let our workers down," said Titus, who introduced the Ensuring Worker Safety Act in March in the House to empower federal regulators in states like Nevada that have fallen short of enforcing state workplace safety plans. "A new office in the region will enable a stronger federal-state partnership that will improve training and support for Nevada OSHA without taking away state control."
Nevada is one of 22 states that runs its own workplace safety programs with the blessing of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, after certifying that its standards and enforcement are "at least as effective" as those set at the federal level.
Steve Holloway, executive vice president of the Las Vegas chapter of the Associated General Contractors, said the office should have been here all along to support the state agency.
"Construction is really down right now," Holloway said. "It would have been more useful when things were booming and we had all this construction going on."
He added that the state agency has responded well to federal OSHA's audit and have taken steps to fix the problems that existed before the current administration took charge during the past 14 months.
"I recently participated in an interim legislative commission subcommittee hearing on (state) OSHA and I am quite comfortable that the Legislature and state OSHA are all pointed in the right direction," Holloway said. "The deficiencies that existed are being corrected so I don't know if federal OSHA is needed right now."
Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@ reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Review-Journal writer Jennifer Robison contributed to this report.