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Feds Set to Reject AZ Fall Guidelines

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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Federal safety authorities plan to formally reject Arizona’s tailor-made regulation for residential fall protection, saying the 2012 revised statute falls short of federal standards.

In a letter March 19 to the Industrial Commission of Arizona, OSHA Administrator David Michaels wrote that the state plan approved March 27, 2012, was "less effective" than federal guidelines now in effect.

Roof scaffolding

According to OSHA, the Arizona residential fall protection plan does not offer enough safeguards for workers at six to 15 feet up, and even higher.

Arizona could lose up to $3 million in federal enforcement and consultation funds if the state does not revise the plan and the feds have to step in and take over the construction industry jurisdiction in the state.

Different Levels of Protection

Michaels' letter details several areas in which the Arizona plan falls short of federal OSHA requirements.

"[M]ost important," Michaels wrote, is that the Arizona plan "requires very limited, if any fall protection for employees working between 6 and 15 feet, whereas OSHA's standard for construction fall protection requires use of conventional fall protection (fall arrest systems, nets or guardrails) at a height of 6 feet."

Arizona's statute requires only a fall protection plan that "reduces or eliminates fall hazards" for workers at six to 15 feet up.

In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection plans be site-specific, whereas the Arizona plan allows employers to develop a single fall-protection plan covering all construction operations for work performed below 15 feet.

Fall protection

"OSHA is also aware of Arizona cases where workers fell and were saved from severe injury by following federal OSHA residential fall protection requirements," said Administrator David Michaels.

Arizona's employer requirements for workers at 15 feet or higher also contain "broad exceptions" that "will result in many circumstances in which conventional fall protection is not required," Michaels wrote.

Those exceptions include work "of short duration and nonrepetitive and ... of limited exposure," although the statute does not define any of those terms.

The state statute also has potential gaps for falls between joists, rafters or roof trusses, and it exempts roofing operations from the general requirement for conventional fall protection above 15 feet, OSHA said.

Workers at Risk

The letter notes that falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry and that Arizona has recorded 11 fatal falls during residential construction since 2003.

Last summer alone, Michaels said, federal OSHA was notified of two severe falls by workers who were not provided with fall protection. Those falls occurred within the six-to-15-foot range where OSHA is demanding greater statutory protection.

In one case, a worker who fell from nine and one-half feet up landed on a concrete driveway and suffered bleeding on the brain, broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken finger.

In another, a worker fell nine feet and suffered severe injuries that required that he be airlifted to a hospital.

Dr. David Michaels Gov. Jan Brewer
OSHA (left); Gage Skidmore; Wikimedia Commons

OSHA's administrator, Dr. David Michaels, says that the Arizona statute, signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, is too lenient and has too many exceptions.

Conversely, Michaels said, "OSHA is also aware of Arizona cases where workers fell and were saved from severe injury by following federal OSHA residential fall protection requirements."

He cited two specific recent accidents, adding: "The companies who employ these workers choose to protect employees to the federal standard and, as a result, their lives were not shattered like those above."

Resuming Enforcement

Arizona's effort to change its fall protection requirements followed OSHA's announcement in December 2010 that it would resume enforcement of conventional fall protection requirements for residential roofing that had been suspended in 1995.

The federal standard requires use of fall protection at a height of six feet, with exceptions for residential construction "where an employer can prove that conventional fall protection is infeasible in the circumstances or creates a greater hazard."

Floor truss

OSHA also expressed concern about state provisions for worker protections around joists, rafters and roof trusses.

States that operate their own OSHA plans must enforce standards that have at least the same minimum requirements as the federal standards.

In December 2012, federal OSHA informed Arizona that the changes it was proposing would fall short of that requirement. Numerous meetings followed between state and federal officials, but as of late 2013, OSHA had received no commitment from either Arizona legislators or Gov. Jan Brewer to make changes, Michaels wrote.

Deadline and Response

The state was given until April 18 to show cause why OSHA should not reject the statute and resume federal enforcement of construction work in Arizona.

A statement provided to The Arizona Republic on behalf of the state's Industrial Commission defended the state's program.

"Arizona's state occupational safety and health program is, and has always been, at least as effective as the federal program," the statement said.

"[The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health] is prepared to defend that program and will respond as appropriate to the show cause letter."


Tagged categories: Enforcement; Fall protection; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; OSHA; Regulations; Residential Construction; Workers

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