The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health could lose its authority to regulate residential construction work if it does not strengthen its fall protection rules.
In a March 19 letter to the director of the Industrial Commission of Arizona, OSHA Administrator David Michaels asserts that recent changes to the state’s fall protection rules make them less protective than federal OSHA’s standards.
Michaels notes that Arizona’s regulations require “very limited, if any, fall protection for employees working between six and 15 feet, whereas OSHA’s standard for construction fall protection requires use of conventional fall protection (fall arrest systems, nets or guardrails) at a height of six feet.”
Arizona lawmakers revised the state’s fall protection requirements for residential construction in March 2012. OSHA sent a letter to the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health in December 2012 explaining that the state’s new requirements are not at least as effective as the federal fall protection requirements.
The March 19 letter dedicates a page and a half to the shortcomings of Arizona’s revised fall protection requirements. Michaels points out that:
- Unlike the federal OSHA standard, which requires employers to develop site-specific fall protection plans, Arizona’s standard allows employers to develop one fall protection plan covering multiple sites for work performed at heights below 15 feet.
- Arizona’s statute, like federal OSHA’s standard, includes a provision that employers must use conventional fall protection unless they can show that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard. However, Michaels notes, Arizona’s standard “contains additional broad exceptions to the general requirement for conventional fall protection that will result in many circumstances in which conventional fall protection is not required.”
- The Arizona standard suspends fall protection requirements “if the work is of short duration and nonrepetitive and is of limited exposure” (quoting from the statute) and the hazards involved in implementing conventional fall protection equal or exceed the hazards associated with the work being performed. “The statute does not define the terms ‘short duration,’ ‘nonrepetitive’ or ‘limited exposure,’” Michaels says. “A broad interpretation of these terms has the potential to render ineffective the general requirement for conventional fall protection at heights at or above 15 feet.”
OSHA, Michaels warns in the letter, “will initiate proceedings to reject the [fall protection standard] and “reconsider” Arizona’s status as a state-plan state unless Arizona submits a revised standard or is able to show they OSHA should not reject the standard. Michaels gives the state until April 18 to respond.
Arizona Senators Ask for More Time
In an April 1 letter to Michaels, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake ask OSHA to delay any action until Arizona lawmakers vote on a new fall protection bill under consideration in the state legislature.
“It is our understanding that the Arizona legislature is considering legislation that would alter and revise the current state statute in accordance with concerns raised by OSHA to better comply with OSHA fall protection standards,” the senators explain. “Given these actions by the Arizona legislature, we ask that you delay any proceedings to reject Arizona’s fall protection standard or proceedings that may involve federal control of Arizona construction at least until a final bill has passed the Arizona legislature and there has been adequate time to examine if these changes will allow the Arizona plan to be ‘as least as effective as’ the federal standard."
The senators assert that Arizona “has a long history of making this issue a priority, having required written fall protection plans at all construction sites since 1995 – 15 years before OSHA issued federal fall protection standards.”
“We are concerned that OSHA does not appear to consider the longstanding safety record and enforcement efforts of Arizona as it considers the state’s fall protection plan,” McCain and Flake say in their letter to Michaels. “ We are also concerned about OSHA’s ability to identify how Arizona can be ‘as least as effective as’ OSHA standards in lieu of complying with specific federal mandated standards.”