Arizona business community balks at feds’ move to control workplace safety

A broad coalition of the Arizona business community is opposing a move by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to rescind approval of Arizona’s state plan for workplace safety.  

OSHA last month launched a series of steps to revoke its final approval of Arizona’s state workplace safety and health plan, alleging a “history of shortcomings” including missed deadlines to either adopt safety and health standards or to provide timely proof of compliance. 

In October, Arizona was among a handful of states threatened by the federal agency with having their state plan revoked – a move that would strip Arizona’s ability to regulate workplace safety standards and precautions for private businesses. Gov. Ducey called the threat a “political stunt and desperate power grab.” 

In response to the latest warning, the state Industrial Commission, which administers Arizona’s OSHA plan, called the announcement a “serious overreaction” by the Biden administration, adding, “Arizona has always, and will continue, to implement occupational safety and health standards in accordance with our mutually agreed upon state plan and Arizona law.” 

Arizona’s business community mobilized swiftly in opposition to the proposed revocation, under which the state would cede the state plan to federal enforcement.  

In a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Labor, a coalition of more than 30 businesses and organizations statewide – representing hundreds of thousands of Arizonans and job creators – encouraged the agency to “cease any actions that threat Arizona’s state plan status.” 

“Any intrusion into Arizona by OSHA would jeopardize the system Arizona has worked diligently to cultivate and would be detrimental to Arizona’s employees, employers, and economy,” they wrote. 

They also note that “Arizona has operated a highly-effective occupational safety and health program for nearly 50 years – a program that we view as equally if not more effective than most federally-operated states.” 

The data supports that, too. Statistics show Arizona’s program is equivalent to and perhaps surpasses the effectiveness of most federally operated states.  

According to the latest data from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arizona’s fatal injury rate is 3.1 – far less than the national average of 4.1 and significantly lower than the 3.8 rate in OSHA-operated states. Arizona’s comparatively low worker fatality rate is particularly notable given that it is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. 

However, the success of the Arizona State Plan is measured by more than metrics. Arizona’s sound approach in addressing occupational safety and health reflects the state’s collaborative environment and culture.  

Arizona credits strong relationships between workers and industry for proactively preventing workplace injuries. For example, in fiscal year 2021, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health completed more than 1,000 consultation visits, impacting more than 26,000 workers. ADOSH provided training to nearly 16,000 workers and collaborated with employers and employees to allay over 4,500 hazards. 

Arizona’s successful approach is also reflected in the number of employers that have partnered with ADOSH. The number of Arizona employers participating in the Voluntary Protection Program per capita eclipses the average number of employers engaged in OSHA-operated states. 

In presenting its argument to the U.S. Department of Labor, the business community has encouraged OSHA to take steps to work in concert with Arizona to strengthen its well-established and successful occupational safety and health program. 

While there is no deadline for OSHA to announce its final decision, the agency has tentatively scheduled an informal public hearing for August 16 if it finds “substantial objections” have been filed.  

The public will have until May 26 to submit comments on OSHA’s proposal.

Kathy Pierce

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