With NV workplace injuries and deaths outpacing nation, activists push for more safety measures
Labor activists with Arriba Las Vegas stand outside the Division of Industrial Relations office and demand more aggressive enforcement from Nevada OSHA for labor violations. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)
Worker fatalities and injuries in Nevada continue to outpace the national average, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2020, the latest data available, 37 Nevada workers died on the job between January of 2019 and June of 2020. Regional Commissioner Chris Rosenlund also noted that Nevada was among 20 states that had a significantly higher number of work-related injuries per 100 full-time workers for the year than the national rate.
Private industry employers in Nevada reported 29,800 nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in Nevada in 2020, resulting in an incidence rate of 3.2 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers compared to the national rate of 2.7.
In short, Nevada is a good place to be a bad boss, according to worker safety advocates.
Nevada OSHA is one of over 20 state-level occupational safety programs supervised and partially funded by the federal OSHA. Nevada OSHA is also responsible for oversight and investigation of fatalities and worker complaints.
But many workers and their families say Nevada OSHA has failed to increase safety enforcement on worksites despite the state’s poor record of workplace fatalities and injuries.
Fatal occupational injuries in Nevada have ranged from a high of 71 in 2007 to a low of 24 in 2009, according to available state data.
The number of work-related fatalities in Nevada for 2020 was three less than the previous year, but higher than in 2017 when 32 Nevada workers died on the job, the lowest year for deaths in the last decade.
Last week, in honor of Workers Memorial Day, workers laid out 37 white roses one-by-one in front of the Nevada OSHA office on Thursday for workers who lost their lives on the job.
The memorial was organized by the Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center, who called on OSHA Nevada and the Biden Administration to enforce existing labor laws and improve working conditions through aggressive enforcement.
Maria Larios, who’s husband works in construction, says she worries for her husband, who has said his work site often fails to provide water to all workers. She recounted how he once reported workers showing symptoms of heat stress, due to the lack of water and breaks, while hiding in the bathroom. However, once inspectors visited the site his supervisor soon launched a campaign – not to provide adequate water and breaks and mitigate the impact of the heat, but to find and fire whoever made the call to Nevada OSHA.
“In my opinion, they need to send inspectors without notice because the abuse is always there and many workers won’t report because they are scared of being fired,” Larios, a native of Mexico, said in Spanish.
Worker deaths in the construction industry saw an increase in 2020, according to state data. The private construction industry sector had nine fatal workplace injuries, up from seven in 2019. Government run construction had four fatalities, up from one in 2019.
Construction and extraction workers experienced the second highest number of fatal workplace injuries with eight. The deadliest occupations were in transportation and material moving jobs with 14.
“It’s a lie that industries follow regulations,” Larios said. “ I know because I see it with my husband and in my community.”
Larios, who works in childcare, said she worries about outdoor workers in labor intensive jobs due to the rise in temperatures year after year.
“It’s getting more dangerous,” Larios said. “They don’t even provide salt tablets and it’s the industry’s obligation to provide all safety equipment.”
Driving-related fatalities resulted in 14 fatal work injuries and falls, slips, or trips accounted for 8 fatalities, according to state data. Combined, the two categories accounted for nearly 60% of all fatal workplace injuries in the state.
The private transportation and warehousing industry sector had the highest number of fatalities of any industry in Nevada with 10, up from 9 in the previous year.
Workers employed as motor vehicle operators accounted for 9 of the 14 work-related deaths among transportation and material moving workers.
Violence and other injuries by persons or animals were the third-most frequent fatal work event with five fatalities, and contact with objects and equipment resulted in four work-related deaths.
In January, Nevada OSHA raised penalties for employer violations by 6.2% in response to a 2019 bill passed by the Nevada Legislature, but labor activists argue higher fines will not deter violations without robust enforcement. For example maximum penalties for willful and repeated violations rose from $136,532 to $145,027.
Rosario Ortiz on Thursday recounted past work abuses he experienced during his time working as a painter for Unforgettable Coatings, a company alleged to be a two-time wage theft offender, according to a federal judge.
Unforgettable Coatings owner Cory Summerhays has contested the allegations and contends they are the product of his company being targeted by organized labor. The case is still ongoing.
“Immigrant workers don’t have the protections other workers have,” Ortiz said, who is set to receive a work permit after 20 years in the U.S. “We are here to ask OSHA to improve implementation of regulations to protect all immigrant workers, that way we won’t have anymore worker deaths.”
Workers said employees in Nevada report more injuries than the national rate due to businesses regularly defying safety rules.
Of the 29,800 private industry injury and illness cases reported in Nevada, 18,500 were considered severe, involving days away from work, job transfer, or restriction—commonly known as DART cases, for Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred . Fifty-nine percent of the DART cases in Nevada resulted in at least one day away from work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Teresa Sanchez, a Mexico native, said she reported several injuries and safety issues while working in a hotel which resulted in her eventual termination.
Sanchez said she wants more worker protections and enforcement so “this doesn’t happen to workers for the sole reason that they reported accidents at work, because that’s a form of intimidation,” she said in Spanish.
The leisure and hospitality sector has the second highest number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2020. The trade, transportation, and utilities industry placed first in most recorded work injuries. Combined, the two sectors made up nearly 49% of the occupational injuries and illnesses in Nevada.
Labor organizers also urged OSHA to use deferred action protections to protect workers in labor disputes. Like the well-known Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, deferred action for labor enforcement could temporarily protect workers from deportation who report labor abuses.
“They give us the hardest jobs and discriminate against us,” said Hector Garcia, a construction worker. “They pay us less, all because we’re undocumented.”
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