Nevada OSHA Director Defends Construction Site Safety Efforts

March 6, 2009

The head of Nevada’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration defended his agency’s efforts to ensure workplace safety during a Senate committee hearing this week that marked the start of a monthlong review of such efforts.

Tom Czehowski told the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee that Nevada OSHA “is operating the way we’re supposed to,” and there’s “no subjectivity” in how safety rules are enforced.

Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, the committee chairwoman, raised several questions about workplace safety in Nevada, noting a dozen construction workers died in a recent 18-month period at job sites on the Las Vegas Strip.

Carlton said that the death total was more than the number of construction workers who died throughout the 1990s on Strip projects, telling Czehowski she had “a hard time understanding” why safety wasn’t better now at all building sites.

“I think a message certainly has been sent to this state, to this (Las Vegas) valley, to the contractors, to everybody involved, to the construction workers, to all of us that safety awareness has to be up there,” Czehowski said. “And it has to come above production.”

Safety concerns came to a head last year after the death of a sixth worker at the $9.2 billion CityCenter project on the Strip. That led to a one-day strike by workers to protest conditions, and federal state and local officials increased their oversight.

Lawmakers also were told by John Wiles, counsel for the state Division of Industrial Relations, that there was “nothing inappropriate” in the handling of an investigation into the deaths of two workers at the Orleans hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

Nevada OSHA officials investigated the property after the workers died and another worker was hospitalized in early 2007. The men had been trying to clear blocked grease traps at the resort.

Federal OSHA officials faulted Nevada for downgrading citations issued in the case from “willful” to “serious” and reducing a proposed fine of about $400,000 to $185,000.”

A state OSHA investigator had pressed for the “willful” finding and quit in protest after the citations were downgraded.

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