Death by Deregulation: OSHA Embroiled in Battle with AZ Home Builders Lobby Over Fall Prevention

In Arizona a battle is brewing between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and non-union roofing contractor groups over the state’s protection of workers from falls, which make up roughly 50% of residential construction fatalities and 80% of residential roofing fatalities. Since the 1990’s, federal regulations have required that most contractors provide safety harnesses, netting, or guard rails to those working six feet or more above the ground. Until recently those regulations came with a clause “temporarily” exempting residential contractors.  

Seven states, including Arizona, have refused to comply, setting off a series of battles between OSHA and state governments and agencies.   

While the safety precautions can help save lives and avoid debilitating injuries, many contractors and their lobbyists have argued that the precautions are — you guessed it — too costly.  This is the logic of the Arizona chapter of the National Association of Home Builders, which lobbied the state legislature to pass a law putting the threshold for requiring these precautions at a whopping 15 feet, nearly three times the height of the federal standard.

Falls on construction sites are a serious hazard that has increased as contractors have refused to comply with regulations.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 190 on-the-job deaths among residential construction workers last year, up from 154 in 2011—a 23% increase.  Fatalities in commercial, municipal and industrial construction where the regulations are more strictly enforced went up just 4% in that time frame.  Fatality rates among roofers jumped to 38.7 per 100,000 workers in 2013.  In 2011 the rate was 34.1.

The solution seems simple: Contractors should be forced to meet federal regulations concerning job safety practices.  Yet, non-union contractor groups are spending an undisclosed amount of money to block such action in the name of savings.  The situation shows exactly where the priorities of such contractors are.  They are willing to spend big on lobbyists to fight regulations concerning worker safety, but are unwilling to spend money on equipment and training that could keep their employees alive.  

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