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Housing authority fined $47,000 by OSHA

Southern Nevada’s struggling public housing agency owes $47,000 in fines for six serious safety violations identified by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The violations by the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority included a $35,000 “willful-serious” offense, which is the most “egregious” kind of violation. It happened during the April repair of a broken water main.

The housing authority also may face additional fines for failing to pay the penalty and submit a corrective action plan by the Sept. 1 due date, a state official said late Friday.

The violations and the costly fines shocked housing authority board of commissioners’ members contacted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week. Executive Director John Hill kept them in the dark regarding the violations, they said.

“Part of the problem with the agency is that there’s always a strategic plan to hide information and cover up, and this is a perfect example,” said Commissioner Dora LaGrande on Thursday.

An investigation by the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration was opened in April at a housing authority property at 5701 Missouri Ave., near Tropicana Avenue and Boulder Highway. The case was closed on Aug. 11.

“The investigation was classified as a referral,” said Teri Williams, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, which includes Nevada OSHA. “A referral inspection is triggered when OSHA is notified by a credible source — such as another government agency, the media, or other third party— of a potential hazard.”

Employees with the housing authority and a contractor were repairing a broken water main at the location. There was no cave-in protection, and before and after the inspection, several areas of the excavation collapsed, according to the inspection narrative. Employees were not wearing hard hats, which would have reduced the potential for injury.

A ladder that was being used by the contractor — Anytime Plumbing — was not secure and was not extended above the upper landing surface by 3 feet. When the inspection began, the excavation was 7.5 feet deep, 21 feet long and approximately 10 feet wide, according to documents. Water was accumulating in the excavation.

The housing authority also failed to notify local utilities prior to the excavation. Housing authority employees and the contractor were given no training or work rules related to the excavation.

“Everyone involved appears to be unfamiliar with the work and are not equipped to properly proceed with the work safely,” the inspection narrative reads.

On Thursday, the only information Hill provided to the Review-Journal was that the money to pay the fines could come out of the authority’s financial reserves or operating budget. On Friday, Hill said he didn’t inform the housing authority’s board of commissioners about the citations when the agency received them.

Hill said the board will be informed during its upcoming meeting on Sept. 17. Commissioners will receive their board packages on Sept. 10.

Hill maintained it’s his practice to inform the board as quickly as possible.

But when asked why he didn’t inform the board when the agency received the citations, he said: “It was just something that didn’t happen.”

The citations and penalties were issued on Aug. 10.

The most egregious violation was the failure to determine the water main’s location before the excavation started.

“The estimated location of utility installations, such as a sewer, telephone, fuel, electric, water lines, or any other underground installations that reasonably may be expected to be encountered during excavation work, shall be determined prior to opening an excavation,” documents read.

Housing authority Board Vice Chairman Sanje Sedera said Hill informed the board of the excavation problem, but never told commissioners about the citations and violations.

It’s “extremely disappointing” that Hill did not keep the board in the loop, he said.

However, Hill said an email was sent to authority commissioners in April informing them of the excavation and that state officials were on site.

The penalties come as the agency faces an estimated budget deficit of between $1.6 million and $1.8 million for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

The housing authority had until Sept. 1 to contest the violations or request an informal conference to discuss any issues raised by the inspection, but did not do so, Williams said.

Payment from the authority was due Sept. 1.

“Nevada OSHA has not yet received payment or a notification or corrective action,” Williams said on Friday.

Hill said someone in the housing authority’s human resources department called OSHA and informed officials that the payment and corrective action plans was going to be sent in the next couple of days.

When he was asked why that wasn’t submitted by the due date, he said: “I’m not exactly sure what the delay was.”

But added that he took various proactive measures, such a retraining staff, to try to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3843. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro

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