Biden Administration Blasts Arizona For Lax Workplace Safety Rules

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 said Wednesday that it’s moving to revoke Arizona’s state OSHA plan. The Grand Canyon State is one of more than 20 states that run their own workplace safety programs under federal approval, with inspections carried out by state officials. Under the law, a state plan must be “at least as effective” as the federal program. If it’s found not to be, then federal officials could move to take over enforcement.

Doug Parker, the head of OSHA appointed by President Joe Biden, said on a press call that Arizona had shown a pattern of ignoring federal requirements, including a new rule to protect health care workers from COVID-19. State plans were obligated to implement their own version of that rule, and Arizona was one of three states that OSHA officials warned when they hadn’t done so.

But Parker said problems with Arizona go back years.

“OSHA is asking Arizona … to address the litany of issues that OSHA has identified over the last decade,” he said. “This isn’t about a single instance. It’s about multiple issues over a period of time.”

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

Parker cautioned that revoking a state plan’s approval is a lengthy process and that it 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 axing the state program. That would be followed by a public-comment period.

The move made Wednesday does not give federal officials the authority to start enforcing workplace safety standards in Arizona, at least not yet. Parker said if federal officials ended up revoking the plan then they would address enforcement at that time.

“OSHA is asking Arizona to address the litany of issues that OSHA has identified over the last decade.”

– Doug Parker, head of OSHA

As Jordan Barab, a workplace safety expert and former OSHA official, has explained on his blog Confined Space, revoking a state plan is a last resort in dealing with recalcitrant states, and it comes with several downsides.

In states with their own safety plans, the federal and state governments split the cost of administering them. If federal OSHA has to take over enforcement in Arizona, that could siphon resources from an already-stretched agency. The move would also end up excluding Arizona’s public employees from OSHA coverage, meaning OSHA’s safety rules wouldn’t apply in their workplaces.

Arizona, along with South Carolina and Utah, was slow to adopt the Biden administration’s COVID-19 safety rule for health care facilities. When OSHA put the states on notice in October, an Arizona official told HuffPost that the state was working “in good faith” to implement it and was “surprised” by the threat from federal officials.

Doug Ducey, the state’s Republican governor who has been resistant to pandemic safety measures, called it “a political stunt and desperate power grab.”

But federal officials said Arizona had failed to adopt other federal standards in a timely manner. According to OSHA, Arizona has not adopted fine levels that meet the federal law’s requirements, or developed a series of safety emphasis programs that OSHA requires.

Officials also said Arizona didn’t strengthen its rules for protecting workers from falls until after OSHA said it might revoke the state plan.

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