Nevada governor tasks state OSHA with enforcing mandatory mask order

Gov. Sisolak has tapped the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to help enforce Nevada’s mask mandate.

OSHA’s role in protecting local workers is next-level critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. But healthcare workers say the state agency has been failing them, forcing them to fend for themselves when the stakes are highest.

“As the pandemic has increased, OSHA has kind of gone away,” said Nicole Koester, a nurse at MountainView Hospital. She and others with a nurses’ union turned to OSHA for help early in the pandemic when single-use personal protective equipment, like masks, were being reused due to short supply.

“And when we reached out to OSHA, they weren’t able to come and investigate because they couldn’t get sick. So what has changed?” Koester asked. “What has made it okay that now they can come out and investigate things within the community where they couldn’t before?”

In announcing the mask mandate, Gov. Sisolak said businesses that fail to meet requirements in the directive will face violations from local licensing agencies, regulatory authorities, and Nevada OSHA.

A statement from the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, which oversees OSHA, says, “The new face-covering directive will be enforced through the same process and mechanisms currently in place to address COVID-19 workplace complaints and referrals.”

“It’s hard for me to believe that it’s possible to enforce something on this magnitude when they can’t even keep the people within the hospital safe,” said Koester.

And then there’s the issue of staffing. There are 47 OSHA field investigators for the entire state. That includes 30 safety specialists, 14 health specialists, and three whistleblower investigators.

Rick Lucas used to be one of them.

“I have no faith that Nevada OSHA would investigate the whistleblower’s complaint and come up with a good investigation or legitimate investigation,” Lucas said.

Others say using OSHA to enforce the mask rule effectively puts all the pressure on the most vulnerable people, the employees.

They must file an OSHA complaint, putting their job at risk when unemployment is at its highest point in history. They must trust OSHA to protect them despite the fact that former insiders have seen OSHA fail to protect whistleblowers and say that meaningful accountability for businesses is often missing.

“The understanding was willful violations would not be written up,” Lucas said.

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