OSHA: Arizona law fails to protect residential construction workers

Mar 22, 2014, 4:18 PM | Updated: 4:18 pm

PHOENIX — Federal officials say they could wind up assuming control of workplace safety in Arizona’s residential construction industry because a 2012 state law doesn’t do enough to protect workers.

In a letter sent Thursday to the Industrial Commission of Arizona, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration focuses on a provision of the law requiring protection for workers facing potential falls of at least 15 feet. OSHA standards call for harnesses, nets or guardrails for those facing potential falls of at least 6 feet.

“Unless satisfactorily resolved, these proceedings may involve OSHA’s resumption of federal coverage of construction work,” David Michaels, assistant secretary for OSHA, said in the letter.

Workplace safety in the state is enforced by an independent body, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which is overseen by the Industrial Commission of Arizona. OSHA supports ADOSH with an annual grant for enforcement, training and outreach. In 2014, the grant was $2.3 million, with an additional $749,500 for consultation.

The state has until April 18 to respond to the letter.

Telephone messages seeking comment from ADOSH and the Industrial Commission of Arizona weren’t returned, but late Thursday a representative of a Phoenix public relations firm emailed a statement on behalf of the commission.

“Arizona’s state occupational safety and health program is, and has always been, at least as effective as the federal program,” the statement read. “ADOSH is prepared to defend that program and will respond as appropriate to the show cause letter.”

The 2012 law stemmed from legislation introduced by Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who said at the time it was a response to new OSHA standards he said would be costly for homebuilders and wouldn’t significantly increase safety.

A bill before the Legislature this year attempts to address OSHA’s concerns by requiring protection for residential construction workers who face potential falls of at least 6 feet. But it wouldn’t apply to those on securely braced joists, rafters and trusses 2 feet or less apart and more than 6 feet from an unprotected edge and if the potential fall is less than 15 feet.

The OSHA letter said the proposed change is inadequate because workers would still face falls of 15 feet.

The provision is included in a strike-everything amendment to SB 1307 authored by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford. An assistant said Griffin wouldn’t be able to discuss the bill Thursday.

Zachary Barnett, area director for OSHA’s Phoenix office, said the letter follows almost two years of talks with state officials and stakeholders.

“Our concern is that we want to ensure that workers in the residential construction industry in Arizona are protected to a federal standard, protected adequately,” he said.

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OSHA: Arizona law fails to protect residential construction workers