The U.S. Dept. of Labor has called off its efforts to revoke Arizona’s occupational health and safety plan after the state addressed federal officials’ workplace safety concerns.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had proposed revoking Arizona’s safety plan last April, pointing to a “pattern of failures” like passing a bill with residential construction fall protections that were less effective than federal requirements and declining to adopt a health care sector emergency temporary standard (ETS) mirroring OSHA’s during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, OSHA published a formal withdrawal of its proposal to revoke the state safety plan Feb. 15 in the Federal Register.
OSHA officials wrote that the state adopted three outstanding final rules related to beryllium in construction and shipyards; cranes and derricks in construction; and railroad roadway work. Arizona lawmakers passed state laws to ensure its penalty levels for safety violations track OSHA’s annual adjustments and to authorize adoption of an ETS when OSHA deems necessary. Lawmakers also adopted recordkeeping requirements under OSHA’s COVID-19 health care ETS as a permanent standard. Additionally, Arizona officials provided documentation to show the state had already adopted several required national emphasis programs, including one on trenching and excavation.
A spokesperson for the Industrial Commission of Arizona, which contains the state agency responsible for administering its workplace safety plan, said in a statement that “We are very pleased that federal OSHA recognizes all the great work that was done to protect Arizona's state plan and keep Arizona one of the safest states to work.”
Arizona is one of 21 states that operate their own state job safety programs with OSHA approval. To maintain federal approval, state plans must maintain rules with at least the same level of effectiveness as OSHA’s. Arizona first received initial approval for its state plan in 1974, and gained final approval in 1985.
OSHA officials previously said they became concerned with Arizona’s state plan in 2012 after state lawmakers moved to loosen some fall protection requirements. Federal regulators said Arizona then fell behind several times in adopting standards that match national safety requirements.
Prior to OSHA’s reversal, construction industry groups in Arizona—including Arizona Builders Alliance, Arizona Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America and Associated Specialty Contractors of Arizona—had supported maintaining the state safety plan in comments to the federal agency. In its comment, AZAGC said the state operates “an exceptional occupational safety and health program that is more effective than most federally operated states.”
In a statement announcing its withdrawal, OSHA noted that it was making the move “despite recent public reports of a downward trend in inspections in the plan's enforcement program,” apparently referring to a January Arizona Republic newspaper report that found compliance inspections in the state had fallen 54% since 2014, primarily due to a decline in staffing. OSHA officials noted that the decline in inspections had not been part of the original notice to revoke the state plan.
“OSHA takes these reports seriously, and the agency is actively working with the Arizona state plan to address these issues,” the agency said in a statement.