The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced that it has, for the first time ever, opened an office in Nevada. The new office, which opened in early May, is located in Las Vegas.

The reason for this unusual move by OSHA (especially in a time of budgetary crisis) is that, in OSHA’s opinion, Nevada’s state OSHA plan has not lived up to the federal government’s expectations. Also, consistent with its nationwide effort to significantly increase its enforcement activity, OSHA is pressuring state plan programs such as Nevada’s to “ramp up” their enforcement efforts.

As you may recall, last October federal OSHA issued a scathing report that was highly critical of Nevada OSHA. That investigation and report was triggered by 25 workplace deaths that occurred in Las Vegas in 2008 and 2009, including complaints to the federal government about two highly-publicized employee deaths at two Las Vegas casinos.

The good news for Nevada OSHA is that the federal government did not take steps to withdraw its approval of the Nevada state OSHA plan and take over the enforcement of workplace safety, as it could have done. The bad news, for Nevada OSHA and Nevada employers alike, is that there will be a new set of investigators and administrators looking over Nevada OSHA’s shoulder and encouraging Nevada OSHA to become even more aggressive in its investigations, citations, negotiations, and even its administrative hearings. Also, while OSHA did not dismantle the Nevada state agency, in a new enforcement initiative announced recently – the Severe Violators Enforcement Program – OSHA has directed state plans, such as Nevada’s, to adopt the program or its “equivalent” within six months. OSHA also has said it will accept referrals from the states for investigations under the new program, which is intended to raise penalties and seek enhanced corrective measures when employers are accused of particularly serious violations involving high-hazard activities.

Even apart from this special program, one of the likely developments for more “garden variety” cases is an increase in serious, willful, and repeat citations. Where there is no statute or regulation on point, Nevada OSHA is likely to rely more on the general duty concept to hold employers liable for perceived safety violations. Inspectors likely will be more aggressive and administrators less cooperative with employers during negotiations. Nevada OSHA might also be less willing to offer employers the option of abatement and, where abatement is offered, is likely to be more aggressive in following up on abatement efforts.

Now is the time to revisit all of your safety policies and procedures and to make absolutely sure you are in full compliance with all OSHA laws and regulations. It is also time to train those “in the field” who will first encounter compliance officers – such as project superintendents and plant managers – in what to do if the inspector arrives on site.

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