State OSHA head picked

Nevada OSHA reached within its own ranks to find its new leader.

Enforcement supervisor Stephen Coffield was named Friday to take over as chief administrative officer for Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration, effective Monday.

He replaces former administrator Tom Czehowski, who retired in May, as the state agency’s top official overseeing workplace safety.

“It was something I wanted to achieve and try to improve the agency,” the 58-year-old Coffield said. “I’m a believer in the quality improvement process. Nothing is perfect and we want to get in and try to improve the safety for workers in Nevada.”

He will report to Nevada Division of Industrial Relations Administrator Donald Jayne, who hired Coffield and whose division oversees Nevada OSHA.

Coffield has been with Nevada OSHA for 13 years, including a nearly 12-month stint as acting chief administrative officer a few years ago. He has been the enforcement supervisor for the past 10 years.

He also manages the agency’s whistle-blower and discrimination program, which looks into complaints by workers who claim they were fired for raising safety concerns.

Coffield is taking over an agency that has been criticized locally and that is under scrutiny by federal safety agencies because of work-safety issues in the state, including a series of construction deaths along the Strip.

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 project.

Two months ago, 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.

The task force, which includes members of federal and regional OSHA offices, conducted follow-up interviews this week, Jayne said.

He said there has been no date announced on when the report would be completed.

“I know they are working on it as aggressively as they can,” Jayne said. “I would hope to see it in the next 30 days. As soon as a final copy is provided we’ll make sure it’s released to the public as well.”

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

Coffield said he is “pretty attuned to what the issues are” that confront the agency. “I think I’m prepared to step in and be productive and hopefully effective very soon after taking over,” Coffield said.

Jayne, who was hired for the Division of Industrial Relations position in March, said he had no worries about hiring a candidate from within state OSHA despite the recent job safety issues.

“I have no real history with the internal staff (of Nevada OSHA),” Jayne said. “From my chair, I was looking across the board for the most qualified candidates available to me … What I was really concerned about was finding the individual I felt was best prepared to step in by experience and background to work lead us forward.”

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

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