Biden administration slams Arizona for lax workplace safety rules

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The Biden administration says Arizona appears “unable or unwilling” to keep workers safe on the job and is taking steps to crack down on the state’s lax standards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Wednesday that it is preparing to revoke the state of Arizona’s OSHA plan. The Grand Canyon State is one of more than 20 states that operate their own federally approved workplace safety programs, with inspections performed by state officials. By law, a state plan must be “at least as effective” as the federal program. If it turns out that this is not the case, the federal authorities could then take over the application of the law.

Doug Parker, the OSHA chief appointed by President Joe Biden, said on a press call that Arizona has shown a pattern of ignoring federal requirements, including a new rule to protect workers from COVID-19 health. State plans were required to implement their own version of this rule, and Arizona was one of three states that OSHA officials warned when they failed to do so.

But Parker said the problems with Arizona go back years.

“OSHA is calling on Arizona … to fix the litany of issues OSHA has identified over the past decade,” he said. “This is not a single instance. It involves multiple problems over a period of time.

A spokesperson for the state OSHA program, known as the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, could not be immediately reached on Wednesday.

Parker warned that revoking state plan approval is a long process and could be avoided with changes by Arizona. The process began Wednesday with a notice in the Federal Register that OSHA intended to move forward with the elimination of the state program. This would be followed by a public comment period.

Wednesday’s decision does not give federal authorities the authority to begin enforcing workplace safety standards in Arizona, at least not yet. Parker said if federal authorities end up revoking the plan, they will deal with enforcement then.

“OSHA is calling on Arizona to address the litany of issues OSHA has identified over the past decade.”

– Doug Parker, Director of OSHA

As occupational safety expert and former OSHA official Jordan Barab explained on his Confined Space blog, revoking a state plan is a last resort for dealing with recalcitrant states, and that’s s ‘along with several disadvantages.

In states with their own security plans, the federal and state governments share the cost of administering them. If federal OSHA has to take over law enforcement in Arizona, it could siphon resources from an already overstretched agency. The move would also end up excluding Arizona public employees from OSHA coverage, meaning OSHA safety rules would not apply in their workplaces.

Arizona, along with South Carolina and Utah, have been slow to adopt the Biden administration’s COVID-19 safety rule for healthcare facilities. When OSHA notified states in October, an Arizona official says HuffPost that the state was working “in good faith” to implement it and that it was “surprised” by the threat from federal authorities.

Doug Ducey, the Republican governor of the state who resisted pandemic safety measures, called him “a political coup and a desperate power grab.”

But federal officials said Arizona failed to adopt other federal standards in a timely manner. According to OSHA, Arizona has not adopted fine levels that meet the requirements of federal law, nor developed a series of safety-emphasis programs required by OSHA.

Officials also said Arizona did not tighten its worker fall protection rules before OSHA said it could revoke the state’s plan.

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