Federal OSHA to Review All State Programs

Oct. 30, 2009
Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary for OSHA, told a Congressional committee on Oct. 29 that federal OSHA will strengthen oversight, monitoring and evaluation of all state OSHA programs.

In testimony before the House Committee on Education and Labor, Barab said federal OSHA will immediately begin conducting a baseline evaluation for each state that administers its own program.

Barab explained the federal action is in response to the agency’s discovery of major deficiencies in Nevada OSHA’s program. A recent report released by OSHA documented a complete review of Nevada’s state plan by a federal OSHA task force commissioned by Barab. As the review progressed, federal OSHA discovered 25 workplace fatalities over 18 months while construction was occurring on the Las Vegas strip. All 25 of the construction worker deaths were investigated by Nevada OSHA. At the same time, federal OSHA received several complaints about how the state handled a confined space accident at the Orleans Hotel that resulted in two deaths.

The Las Vegas Sun also published a series of articles criticizing Nevada OSHA’s handling of the fatalities. The newspaper reported that construction workers were dying at a rate of one every six weeks during the $32 billion building boom on the strip. Reporters wrote of serious safety flaws, lax oversight by safety regulators and “cozy relationships” between safety regulators and builders.

Federal OSHA also suspected that Nevada OSHA avoided classifying violations as “willful” because the state lacked the management and legal counsel support necessary to uphold that classification.

“To improve oversight immediately, I sent interim guidance to OSHA regional administrators about the monitoring tools available to them and encouraged more in-depth investigation of potential problems,” Barab said in the testimony. “To ensure that deficiencies similar to those found in Nevada do not exist in any of the other state plans, OSHA will conduct a baseline evaluation, similar to what we conducted in Nevada, for every state that administers its own program. These evaluations will lead to better program performance and consistency throughout all state plans.”

Barab also mentioned that federal OSHA will begin making all national emphasis programs and other similar initiatives mandatory rather than voluntary.

“We want to work together with the states and provide assistance before a state’s program becomes deficient and causes worker deaths, injuries and illness,” Barab explained. “We are not trying to change the nature of our relationship between federal and state OSHA, but we need to speak with one voice and assure American workers they will receive adequate protection, regardless of the state in which they work.