The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health could lose its authority to regulate residential construction work if it does not strengthen its fall protection rules.

In a March 19 letter to the director of the Industrial Commission of Arizona, OSHA Administrator David Michaels asserts that recent changes to the state’s fall protection rules make them less protective than federal OSHA’s standards.

Michaels notes that Arizona’s regulations require “very limited, if any, fall protection for employees working between six 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 six feet.”

Arizona lawmakers revised the state’s fall protection requirements for residential construction in March 2012. OSHA sent a letter to the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health in December 2012 explaining that the state’s new requirements are not at least as effective as the federal fall protection requirements.

The March 19 letter dedicates a page and a half to the shortcomings of Arizona’s revised fall protection requirements. Michaels points out that:

  • Unlike the federal OSHA standard, which requires employers to develop site-specific fall protection plans, Arizona’s standard allows employers to develop one fall protection plan covering multiple sites for work performed at heights below 15 feet.
  • Arizona’s statute, like federal OSHA’s standard, includes a provision that employers must use conventional fall protection unless they can show that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard. However, Michaels notes, Arizona’s standard “contains additional broad exceptions to the general requirement for conventional fall protection that will result in many circumstances in which conventional fall protection is not required.”
  • The Arizona standard suspends fall protection requirements “if the work is of short duration and nonrepetitive and is of limited exposure” (quoting from the statute) and the hazards involved in implementing conventional fall protection equal or exceed the hazards associated with the work being performed. “The statute does not define the terms ‘short duration,’ ‘nonrepetitive’ or ‘limited exposure,’” Michaels says. “A broad interpretation of these terms has the potential to render ineffective the general requirement for conventional fall protection at heights at or above 15 feet.”

OSHA, Michaels warns in the letter, “will initiate proceedings to reject the [fall protection standard] and “reconsider” Arizona’s status as a state-plan state unless Arizona submits a revised standard or is able to show they OSHA should not reject the standard. Michaels gives the state until April 18 to respond.