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Biden administration knocks Arizona over workplace safety, cites 'pattern of failures'

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/20/2022 Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is moving to strip Arizona of it's authority to regulate workplace safety in response to what the Labor Department called Arizona's "decade-long pattern of failures" to be at least as effective as the federal government's rules and enforcement. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday it's grown increasingly concerned that Arizona "is either unable or unwilling to maintain its commitment to provide a program for worker safety and health protection" as federal law requires.

As examples, the agency said Arizona has not adopted adequate maximum penalty levels, occupational safety and health standards, temporary programs that focus on particular hazards or adequate COVID-19 standards for health care workers.

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Arizona is one of 28 states and territories that operate their own OSHA-approved state plans. That's allowed under federal law, as long as a state's rules are “at least as effective” as OSHA’s.

If they're not, the federal government can revoke a state's plan.

That has never happened involuntarily. 

In 2012, Hawaii requested a temporary modification of its plan to allow federal enforcement while the state worked on improvements, according to the Labor Department. 

In 2014, OSHA began the revocation process for Arizona's oversight of the construction industry. But before the process was complete, Arizona agreed to upgrade its rules to protect workplace injuries from falls, according to the department.

"OSHA only considers revoking a state plan's approval – essentially the death penalty for state plans – when the safety and health of workers of that state are seriously endangered," said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University School of Public Health who headed OSHA during the Obama administration. "OSHA is sending a message to the Arizona state government: fix your plan, or we will take it over."

In October, OSHA warned Arizona, South Carolina and Utah that they were in danger of having their plan's revoked.

In response, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called the threat a "political stunt and desperate power grab."

But Shannon Foley, co-chair of the worker safety committee at IATSE Local 415 and a volunteer with the Arizona Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, said the state is too cozy with industry.

“I don’t enjoy saying this, but it’s a fact: We need the feds to step in,” Foley said in a statement. "We all have a right to a safe workplace, no matter what state we live in.”

Arizona's plan covers most private sector works and all state and local government workers. Public sector employees would no longer be covered if OSHA assumes authority.

The public will have until May 26 to comment on OSHA's proposal to take over workplace safety in Arizona. The agency may also hold an online hearing on Aug. 16, 2022 if "substantial objections" have been filed.

There is no deadline for OSHA to announce its decision.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden administration knocks Arizona over workplace safety, cites 'pattern of failures'

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