Contractors oppose federal OSHA take-over 

Contractors and business groups are mounting a defense of Arizona’s workplace safety agency as the federal government considers intervening in local workplace safety regulation.
“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,” a group of 29 organizations wrote in a May 9 letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.
The signatories include heavyweight lobbyists like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arizona Multihousing Association, and Arizona chapters of the Association of General Contractors and the American Subcontractors Association.
The goal of the push “is really making sure that we make it… less burdensome on our businesses in Arizona,” said Rick Murray, president of the Arizona Chapter of the National Safety Council, which also signed the letter. “Moving enforcement into the hands of the federal government would add “a layer of bureaucracy and a layer of expense to our companies,” he added.
More than three dozen comments opposing the revocation of Arizona’s state plan have already been submitted to OSHA through a public comment process, most by contracting companies and associations, with some echoing language and statistics used in the May 9 letter.
The businesses impacted by a shift from state to federal workplace oversight would range from big corporate developers to smaller shops, like Rick Headlee’s family business, Headlee Roofing Co.
Headlee said he’d like the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health to retain its authority because the agency has helped his company implement proper safety measure for hazards like silica – and he’s concerned a federal agency wouldn’t do the same.
“I’m much happier having a state-run program than a federal, because they seem to be very responsive to us,” Headlee said.
But the feds say the state agency might not be providing workplace protection that’s “at least as effective” as federal OSHA, which means it could be subject to a revocation of its authority – granted by the federal government – to regulate workplace safety in the state.
In a notice posted on April 20, the federal agency outlined what it called a “history of shortcomings” in Arizona’s state plan. The move came six months after the agency threatened to revoke state plans in Arizona, Utah and South Carolina after those states didn’t implement a temporary rule related to Covid safety.
Arizona is the only state where federal OSHA has moved forward with revocation, and the April notice cited more than just non-compliance with pandemic safety standards.
In that notice, federal OSHA detailed issues in Arizona dating back a decade. For example, in 2012, the state passed a law that required homebuilders to provide protection against falls for workers at 15-foot heights, a less stringent standard than the federal six-foot rule; since 2015 Arizona hasn’t adopted or has dragged its feet on adopting federal rules; and the state hasn’t updated employer financial penalties to keep pace with inflation, meaning state-level penalties have been lower than federal ones for more than six years.
Katelyn Parady, who works for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit worker advocacy group, said Arizona’s track record doesn’t look good.
“This is about whether the state agency is providing workers with the rights that they’re entitled to, and the evidence that federal OSHA has presented in the document is substantial and really compelling,” she said.
A spokesman for the Industrial Commission of Arizona didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Will Humble, a longtime director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former head of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said that lax regulation is precisely why builders want to keep the state agency in charge.
“They have a friendly commission that they know is going to go easy on them on workplace safety, and falls, and that kind of stuff,” he said, referring to the Industrial Commission.
“Going all the way back to the (Democratic Gov. Janet) Napolitano administration, ADOSH has had a reputation of being cozy with contractors and not all that interested in worker safety,” Humble added.
Even so, the fact that employers want to maintain control of worker safety doesn’t necessarily mean federal intervention would be a good deal for employees, said Jim Barton, a progressive attorney who has represented labor unions.
“Anytime you’re changing who’s the regulator, and you’re messing things up – no, I don’t think that’s good for workers either,” Barton said. “I think we might have a situation here where workers and contractors are aligned, but for different reasons.”
Murray disputed that the relationship between the Arizona agency and contractors is cozy, but, he added, “It doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship.”
“Having a good working relationship with ADOSH or OSHA is in everybody’s best interest,” he said. “And to be scared of the organization that oversees you in regards to safety probably is not a productive relationship.”
The next step is for the Department of Labor to review public comments (the comment period ends May 26) and hold a public hearing scheduled for August 16.
Jim Sullivan, a Washington D.C. OSHA attorney who worked for the agency during the Trump administration, said the comment and hearing process serves as a recommendation to the secretary of Labor as they consider revoking a state plan, but it’s ultimately up to the secretary to make the decision.
He said there could be some compromise before any decision, though, like what happened 10 years ago with the fall-protection rule. After two years of negotiations with the federal government – and after federal OSHA launched revocation proceedings – Arizona passed a law that had the effect of bringing its fall-protection rule in line with the federal six-foot standard.
Sullivan added that any agreement in the current battle is likely to involve substantial concessions from the state, including adopting federal rules that have been ignored and raising financial penalties. “I think it’s not going to be resolved without Arizona State Plan essentially saying, ‘We’ll get with the program and we’ll follow your lead,’” he said.

Contractors and business groups are mounting a defense of Arizona’s workplace safety agency as the federal government considers intervening in local workplace safety regulation.
“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,” a group of 29 organizations wrote in a May 9 letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.
The signatories include heavyweight lobbyists like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arizona Multihousing Association, and Arizona chapters of the Association of General Contractors and the American Subcontractors Association.
The goal of the push “is really making sure that we make it… less burdensome on our businesses in Arizona,” said Rick Murray, president of the Arizona Chapter of the National Safety Council, which also signed the letter. “Moving enforcement into the hands of the federal government would add “a layer of bureaucracy and a layer of expense to our companies,” he added.
More than three dozen comments opposing the revocation of Arizona’s state plan have already been submitted to OSHA through a public comment process, most by contracting companies and associations, with some echoing language and statistics used in the May 9 letter.
The businesses impacted by a shift from state to federal workplace oversight would range from big corporate developers to smaller shops, like Rick Headlee’s family business, Headlee Roofing Co.
Headlee said he’d like the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health to retain its authority because the agency has helped his company implement proper safety measure for hazards like silica – and he’s concerned a federal agency wouldn’t do the same.
“I’m much happier having a state-run program than a federal, because they seem to be very responsive to us,” Headlee said.
But the feds say the state agency might not be providing workplace protection that’s “at least as effective” as federal OSHA, which means it could be subject to a revocation of its authority – granted by the federal government – to regulate workplace safety in the state.
In a notice posted on April 20, the federal agency outlined what it called a “history of shortcomings” in Arizona’s state plan. The move came six months after the agency threatened to revoke state plans in Arizona, Utah and South Carolina after those states didn’t implement a temporary rule related to Covid safety.
Arizona is the only state where federal OSHA has moved forward with revocation, and the April notice cited more than just non-compliance with pandemic safety standards.
In that notice, federal OSHA detailed issues in Arizona dating back a decade. For example, in 2012, the state passed a law that required homebuilders to provide protection against falls for workers at 15-foot heights, a less stringent standard than the federal six-foot rule; since 2015 Arizona hasn’t adopted or has dragged its feet on adopting federal rules; and the state hasn’t updated employer financial penalties to keep pace with inflation, meaning state-level penalties have been lower than federal ones for more than six years.
Katelyn Parady, who works for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit worker advocacy group, said Arizona’s track record doesn’t look good.
“This is about whether the state agency is providing workers with the rights that they’re entitled to, and the evidence that federal OSHA has presented in the document is substantial and really compelling,” she said.
A spokesman for the Industrial Commission of Arizona didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Will Humble, a longtime director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former head of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said that lax regulation is precisely why builders want to keep the state agency in charge.
“They have a friendly commission that they know is going to go easy on them on workplace safety, and falls, and that kind of stuff,” he said, referring to the Industrial Commission.
“Going all the way back to the (Democratic Gov. Janet) Napolitano administration, ADOSH has had a reputation of being cozy with contractors and not all that interested in worker safety,” Humble added.
Even so, the fact that employers want to maintain control of worker safety doesn’t necessarily mean federal intervention would be a good deal for employees, said Jim Barton, a progressive attorney who has represented labor unions.
“Anytime you’re changing who’s the regulator, and you’re messing things up – no, I don’t think that’s good for workers either,” Barton said. “I think we might have a situation here where workers and contractors are aligned, but for different reasons.”
Murray disputed that the relationship between the Arizona agency and contractors is cozy, but, he added, “It doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship.”
“Having a good working relationship with ADOSH or OSHA is in everybody’s best interest,” he said. “And to be scared of the organization that oversees you in regards to safety probably is not a productive relationship.”
The next step is for the Department of Labor to review public comments (the comment period ends May 26) and hold a public hearing scheduled for August 16.
Jim Sullivan, a Washington D.C. OSHA attorney who worked for the agency during the Trump administration, said the comment and hearing process serves as a recommendation to the secretary of Labor as they consider revoking a state plan, but it’s ultimately up to the secretary to make the decision.
He said there could be some compromise before any decision, though, like what happened 10 years ago with the fall-protection rule. After two years of negotiations with the federal government – and after federal OSHA launched revocation proceedings – Arizona passed a law that had the effect of bringing its fall-protection rule in line with the federal six-foot standard.
Sullivan added that any agreement in the current battle is likely to involve substantial concessions from the state, including adopting federal rules that have been ignored and raising financial penalties. “I think it’s not going to be resolved without Arizona State Plan essentially saying, ‘We’ll get with the program and we’ll follow your lead,’” he said.

Contractors and business groups are mounting a defense of Arizona’s workplace safety agency as the federal government considers intervening in local workplace safety regulation.