Arizona will keep its tough stance on construction site safety despite a recent court ruling that reduces control by the federal agency responsible for maintaining safety in the workplace.
“We’re one of 26 state-planned agencies, and we don’t recognize that ruling,” said William Wright, Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration assistant director.
The ruling eliminates OSHA’s ability to issue citations to “controlling employers,” or general contractors, on construction sites when subcontractors, or smaller companies working for the general contractor, are cited for safety violations.
Wright said the decision handed down April 27 by the commission reverses more than 30 years of legal practice.
“We plan to continue to conduct our construction site inspections as we always have,” he said. “Our state’s safety standards will remain equal — or better — than federal requirements.”
The Little Rock, Ark., case began when Summit Contractors, a general contractor, was coordinating construction of a dormitory. The firm contracted with All Phase Construction to perform masonry work. However, All Phase reportedly failed to properly protect its workers from falls from scaffolds and, as a result, both Summit and All Phase were cited by OSHA.
All Phase did not contest the violations, but Summit appealed on grounds that it had no employees exposed to the hazard. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Summit and, subsequently, removed the general contractor from the citation.
OSHA, meanwhile, appealed the decision and is awaiting another hearing in September.
Kevin Scannell, a safety consultant for Valley construction companies, said the ruling is causing confusion among general and subcontractors in the Valley.
“There’s a fine line between the responsibilities of general contractors and subcontractors,” Scannell said. “The ruling is confusing general contractors. Meanwhile, everybody’s waiting for another ruling which, we think, will bring back the 30-year-old practice of having general contractors directly responsible for safety among subcontractors.”
Scannell agreed with Wright that the issue doesn’t create a problem of safety among workers in Arizona since the state has rigid requirements. But he said the prospect of a lawsuit being filed against an Arizona general contractor, even though the firm is not cited for a violation, remains uncertain.
Work site safety activity
Number of Arizona companies cited for serious, repeated and willful safety violations: 2004 — 1,182 2005 — 1,028 2006 — 989
2004 — 2,889 2005 — 2,356 2006 — 2,792 Between 2004 and 2005, there were 65 work site fatalities in Arizona, averaging 2.7 each month.
Source: Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration