Baseline Evaluations of All State Plans Coming: Barab

At the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee hearing Thursday that followed OSHA's report criticizing Nevada OSHA, acting chief Jordan Barab said his agency will conduct a baseline evaluation of every state plan, just as it did with Nevada's.

Thursday's Capitol Hill hearing about the OSHA report critical of Nevada OSHA gave acting chief Jordan Barab the chance to flesh out his promise of more oversight. He said OSHA will conduct baseline evaluations of all state plans, just as it did with Nevada's. That evaluation produced a report documenting serious shortcomings in the Nevada program, including failing to issue appropriate willful and repeat violations, inspectors who were not properly trained to recognize construction hazards, and lack of follow-up to determine whether hazards were abated. Nevada OSHA is under new leadership that is committed to resolving the concerns raised, the report pointed out.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairs the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, which held the hearing at which Barab and others testified. “Basic oversight of state plans is not only important in Nevada, but it is vital to the 57 million American workers whose health and safety protections are enforced by a state plan,” said Miller. “While some states are running innovative programs, it is clear that additional reviews of state plans are warranted.”

"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. "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." He added that federal OSHA supports the state plan programs and applauds state plans' dediation. "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," he said. "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."

Franklin Mirer, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the City University of New York, testified more review is needed because states that operate their own plans often have lower rates of citations than federal OSHA. “The OSHA report, and the press reports, depict failures of the enforcement process in the Nevada state plan,” said Mirer. “Compared to OSHA, state plans in general issue fewer citations classified as higher gravity, including serious, willful, failure to abate, and repeated. Federal OSHA can take this opportunity to improve its oversight of state plans.”

Barab earlier said OSHA was able to complete an extensive Nevada program evaluation quickly because of Nevada OSHA's assistance. He said Nevada OSHA new leadership cooperated fully throughout the process and has pledged to take corrective action. Nevada is one of 27 states and American territories approved to operate its own safety and health enforcement program.

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