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September 16, 2014

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Mother calls for criminal probes in workplace safety cases

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Tiffany Brown

Debi Fergen, holding a picture Monday of her son, Travis Koehler, who was killed at the Orleans, filed a complaint with Fed OSHA and received a letter criticizing the state agency.

CARSON CITY — A mother whose son died in an on-the-job accident at a Las Vegas hotel is calling for the district attorney or the state attorney general to be called into safety violation cases to conduct possible criminal prosecutions.

And officials of Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration say the vast majority of recommendations made in a critical federal report last year have been completed.

Debi Koehler-Fergen told a legislative committee examining Nevada’s workplace safety laws that any case involving an on-the job fatality should be opened for criminal prosecution.

Travis W. Koehler and Richard Luzier died when they were overcome by hydrogen sulfide fumes from a cut pipe in a confined space at the Orleans in 1997. Another worker was injured.

She also recommended that families of victims be kept notified when an investigation is started and any settlements are reached.

After a six months investigation in the Orleans case, the state OSHA levied a $185,000 fine against the Boyd Gaming Corp., owner of the resort, which agreed to overhaul its safety program.

After a number of construction deaths in 2009, the federal OSHA conducted an investigation of the state safety program and issued a highly critical report.

Steve Coffield, chief administrative officer for Nevada’s OSHA, told the legislative committee that most of the recommendations would be completed by this summer. But he said there is still the problem of staffing and the wage level in the enforcement and mechanical staff.

The agency is supported by fees and federal funds and not from the state’s general fund.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, said the inspectors in Nevada OSHA are underpaid. He directed the agency to conduct a salary survey to present to the 2011 Legislature.

Conklin said the state trains staff members, who then end up leaving for private construction jobs at twice the salary.

The legislative committee will meet June 4 to make recommendations to the 2010 Legislature for changes in the law.

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