The Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health has adopted an attitude toward Arizona State University that many would like to be extended to the private sector — they will trust you to see to the safety of your own employees and customers instead of subjecting you to the state’s sometimes excessive oversight.
Tribune writer Ryan Gabrielson reported Sunday the state safety agency routinely ignored complaints last year from ASU employees about dangerous work conditions. Time and again, safety inspectors simply asked ASU officials to look into the matters — essentially telling the university to regulate itself.
Advocates for having a state safety agency argue private businesses can’t be allowed to do the same thing because they have powerful economic incentives to skimp on safety equipment and training. This position contends that businesses will knowingly put their employees in unnecessary danger to save money and to fatten their profits.
It’s funny how safety inspectors didn’t consider that ASU has a similar economic motive, since the university asks for more money every year through higher student fees and additional state funding.
Of course, the university has admitted it was a lack of money that prompted it to ignore safety laws and delay the installation of fire sprinklers on the second and third floors of the student union as part of a recent remodeling. Those sprinklers were still missing when a fire broke out on the second floor last year, causing heavy damage and putting lives at risk.
Gabrielson reported the Department of Occupational Safety and Health checked into just one ASU employee complaint out of at least 20, and found a serious problem with asbestos being released into the air during a remodeling project and possibly exposing workers to a dangerous carcinogen.
We can’t imagine what the safety agency might have found if it had looked into the other complaints. But it’s the height of hypocrisy for this agency to make demands of private employers as long as it turns a blind eye to potential dangers inside another arm of the state.