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Feds could take over Arizona's workplace-safety division

PHOENIX -- Arizona's disdain for what many say is an all-too powerful federal government could grow if a disagreement over federal construction standards is not resolved.

It could, in fact, result in the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration taking over the state's inspections and oversight of construction projects.

Arizona has its own division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but it must comply with minimum federal requirements. Until last year, it did.

But legislation in 2012 changed Arizona's safety fall standards for residential construction projects by requiring conventional fall protection for work performed at a minimum of 15 feet. Federal standards require that minimum protection be applied for work performed at 6 feet. The federal agency has initiated proceedings against the state and has threatened to take over inspections.

The Arizona Builders' Alliance, a group that represents hundreds of contractors and others in the industry, said that would be detrimental. That's because a federal takeover would affect not just residential construction but the industry as a whole, requiring local contractors to work with a Washington, D.C.-based agency as opposed to one in Arizona, executive director Mark Minter said.

"As business people, we don't like government telling us what to do, and we like the federal government telling us what to do even less. But this is safety standard that is used universally," Minter said.

An OSHA spokeswoman confirmed that it would be likely the federal agency would take over not just residential projects but all construction oversight in Arizona. She said that pending legislation in the Arizona Legislature that would modify the 2012 law still does not meet requirements. She also said the agency would rather work with the state to correct the issue than to take over state operations.

The sponsor of that legislation did not return repeated calls for comment.

The state division also has refused to answer questions but provided a statement through its public relations agency, saying the division is "prepared to defend that program and will respond as appropriate" to the federal agency.

The state has until April 18 to respond to the federal agency's notice of action.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have asked officials from the federal agency to delay any proceedings against Arizona.

"Ensuring worker safety in the construction industry has been and continues to be a priority for Arizona -- long before OSHA found it to be a priority and mandated federal standards. We ask that you work with the state of Arizona as it seeks to better comply with the OSHA fall protection standards through legislation," the senators wrote.

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