AFTER A DECADE OF STATE DEFIANCE, OSHA PLANS TO TAKE OVER ENFORCEMENT IN ARIZONA
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)—After a decade of outright Arizona defiance on everything from protecting construction workers against falls to protecting nurses against the coronavirus, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has run out of patience and is proposing the drastic step of taking over job safety and health enforcement in the state.
The record is so bad, the federal OSHA said, that “together, the state’s actions suggest Arizona is either unable or unwilling to maintain its commitment to provide a program for employee safety and health protection.” Its 36-page Federal Register notice, will be formally published the week of April 24.
The feds “may initiate revocation proceedings if a state plan does not maintain its commitment to provide a program for employee safety and health protection that meets the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and is at least as effective as the federal OSHA program in providing employee safety and health protection at covered workplaces,” federal OSHA’s draft adds.
The announcement is already drawing cheers from the labor-backed National Council on Occupational Safety and Health, and, predictably, jeers from the right-wing Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee, led by notoriously anti-union Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. She called OSHA’s move “a power grab.”
Neither the state agency, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health–part of its Industrial Commission—nor Republican Gov. Doug Ducey commented via websites.
Arizona’s failures are long-standing, the federal OSHA said. Indeed, the first warning signal came when the state endangered construction workers almost a decade ago. State legislators enacted SB1441, stating the state agency did not have to protect those workers against falls unless the workers toiled at least 15 feet off the ground.
OSHA’s standard, then and now, calls for fall protection for workers starting at six feet above the ground. But Arizona, at least initially, defied it. States must follow, or better, both that standard and other federal OSHA job protection standards.
OSHA threatened to take over Arizonan enforcement then, but backed off when the legislature hastily reversed course. Things only got worse after that, OSHA’s notice says.
The AFL-CIO’s latest Death on the Job report, issued last May, adds one more vital point: There are only two federal OSHA inspectors for the entire state and 19 state OSHA inspectors. That’s one inspector for every 138,516 workers. The national figure is one inspector per 82,881 workers, which is skimpy enough. International Labour Organization standards for workplace safety say Arizona should have 291 inspectors, the fed’s report adds.