Stakeholders speak out on OSHA’s proposed takeover of Arizona’s construction industry

Back in August, OSHA proposed revoking Arizona’s oversight of the state’s construction industry because of a dispute regarding its fall protection standard. Stakeholders have weighed in on that proposal.

Representatives from the American Society of Safety Engineers and its Arizona chapters expressed concern that the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s fall protection standard came about through the state legislature’s direction:

“The Arizona State Plan cannot be as effective as the federal program when there are those who can use the state legislature to create laws affecting occupational safety and health outside of an official rulemaking process.”

But two members of that legislature disagreed. In their comments, state Sens. Andy Biggs and Gail Griffin (both R) said the bill (S.B. 1441) setting a trigger height of 15 feet for conventional fall protection equipment – as opposed to OSHA’s 6-foot trigger – is more effective:

“Arizona mandates that employers provide fall protection at six feet, but does not place employees at risk of phantom protection from a personal fall arrest system that will be incapable of arresting a fall before the employee strikes the lower level. In short, Arizona’s fall protection requirements prevent falls from occurring rather than simply arresting falls when they do occur.”

Other stakeholders concurred with the senators’ claims. In comments from the National Association of Home Builders, the group said OSHA made its decision without considering how effective Arizona’s standard may be:

“OSHA failed to look at any meaningful activity based measures – which by OSHA’s own admission are the primary method the agency utilizes to evaluate state plan effectiveness – nor did the agency have time to consider outcome based measures regarding SB 1441 or the effectiveness of the Arizona residential fall protection requirements. Had it done so before prematurely rendering its verdict, the outcome based measures would have revealed SB 1441 to be effective.”

Some commenters even suggested that if OSHA follows through on its proposal to revoke ADOSH’s construction oversight, the move could have a negative effect on other State Plans. The Arizona Industrial Commission, which oversees ADOSH, had such a response:

“OSHA’s response to the submission of a State Plan supplement – to threaten to withdraw State Plan approval – could have a stifling effect on State Plans’ creativity with respect to addressing hazards and could discourage innovation.”

Not everyone has such a negative view of an OSHA takeover, however. Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing more than a third of all fatal falls in 2012 were from heights less than 15 feet, National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman voiced support for OSHA’s proposal:

“Arizona’s proposed increase to a 15 foot standard would unnecessarily endanger lives. … In order to protect our nation’s workers, it is imperative for State Plan states to set minimum standards at OSHA required levels.”

With the comment period closed, OSHA will now consider what stakeholders have to say before making a decision.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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