OSHA asks businesses to ‘rat out’ others not complying with COVID health measures, Reno assemblywoman Tolles says

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By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, R-Reno, said on Nevada Newsmakers that area business owners told her agents of Nevada’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration are asking them to “rat out” other businesses that are not complying with coronavirus pandemic mitigation measures.

“I had business owners tell me “I got a visit and we were all good but they were probing for, ‘Can you rat out your friends?'” Tolles told host Sam Shad. “Do you know anyone else who is not following? Can you keep an eye out? And here’s my cell phone and call us and everything like that.”

Eleven businesses in Nevada have received OSHA fines as of Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. Only one business in Northern Nevada was fined, a tire shop in Fernley, according to the report. Lyon County communities of Dayton and Mound House had the lowest municipal compliance rate, at 50%, OSHA told The AP.

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Tolles statement, from a Wednesday interview, came on the same day that Las Vegas City Councilwomen Michele Fiore called the city’s public health compliance observers “snitches” and wanted to end the program — which is tasked with educating businesses on the governor’s mask directive and social distancing requirements.

Tolles interview can be seen on Friday’s edition of Nevada Newsmakers.

The Las Vegas program has been running for about a month and have observed 580 violations, nearly all of which were corrected once owners were reminded of the requirements, the Las Vegas Sun reported. The city council voted 5-3 to keep the program running. However, city officials said the program would be scaled back from 65 to 12 agents.

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

Las Vegas started its “compliance ambassador program” after the federal government designated Clark County as a coronavirus red zone, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In Northern Nevada, Tolles suggested the health inspectors are becoming too aggressive, saying, “It is a little more of the stick and less with the carrot.”

The compliance officers in Northern Nevada are playing a “gotcha system’ with business, Tolles said.

“You know, it gets to the point where it is no longer about us all taking responsibility and doing our part to help stop this spread, it’s become more about this ‘gotcha system’ and how do you turn in your friend down the street and penalize and so forth,” she said.

“I think we have come a long way in taking this seriously,” she said. “We’re seeing that in the drop of the infection rates, that people are doing a better job, really following the guidelines. And we are seeing that they are responding to the education, the Health Department and the state epidemiologist have done.

“We need to keep that up but this environment where we are going down so hard, asking people to rat out on their friends down the street and so forth, “It is not really the right way to go.”

Tolles praised Reno businesses for strictly following the health mandates.

“The businesses that I’m talking to are doing an unbelievable job of cleaning, sanitizing, putting masks on, keeping their customers compliant which is a bit of an awkward situation as they are greeting them as they come in,” she said.

A spokesperson for Nevada’s Department of Business and Industry, Division of Industrial Relations, said OSHA agents are trained not to ask businesses to inform on others’ compliance of COVID mitigation measures.

“Nevada OSHA inspectors are trained to interact with businesses with the utmost professionalism,” Victoria Carreón, an administrator at the Department of Business and Industry, wrote in an email. “They are trained not to ask or encourage businesses being visited to refer other businesses to Nevada OSHA.

“An authorized OSHA inspector will always present their credentials when interacting with a business,” Carreón said. “If a business suspects that they were visited by someone posing to be an OSHA inspector, they should contact our office for verification.”

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Note: This story was updated at 3:36 p.m. to reflect that OSHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: The story was updated at 4:24 p.m. to update the response from OSHA.

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