By KEVIN FREKING (AP) – 23 hours ago
WASHINGTON — Federal officials will investigate workplace safety programs across the country after the deaths of 25 workers in construction accidents in Las Vegas over an 18-month period.
A federal review of Nevada’s workplace safety program showed inspectors didn’t know enough about construction safety hazards and failed to issue citations for willful and repeat violations. The workers were killed from January 2008 through June 2009.
The review happened after the Las Vegas Sun exposed serious safety flaws on the sites and lax oversight by regulators, leading lawmakers to question whether other states were experiencing similar problems. Now the safety programs in 27 states and territories will be scrutinized.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is responsible for enforcing worker safety standards at about 60 percent of job sites around the country. States oversee the rest, and are encouraged to do so, with monitoring by the federal government.
In a case cited during a congressional hearing Thursday, Nevada’s OSHA program actually weakened penalties against a casino company after two workers died and one was seriously injured, despite that company’s history of similar problems.
“Essentially nothing happens for the death of a worker,” California Democratic Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said. “There’s something very wrong with that. It just doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Jordan Barab, OSHA’s acting assistant secretary, told lawmakers his agency will review state programs and, in a worst-case scenario, would end up running a state program that is lacking.
Some lawmakers applauded the review but didn’t like the idea of states losing control over job safety.
“We should not disregard a model that has worked well in other states,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said a perception of political influence has dogged Nevada’s program. Barab said that his federal agency will open an office in Nevada to improve the state’s oversight of worker safety.