The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday that it was taking steps that could strip three states — Arizona, South Carolina and Utah — of their authority to regulate workplace safety, citing shortcomings in policies on coronavirus protection.
Under federal law, states can assume responsibility for occupational safety if the government approves their plan for doing so and if the plan remains at least as effective as federal enforcement.
Federal officials said Tuesday that the three states had failed to adopt a rule that OSHA issued in June — or to adopt one at least as effective — requiring certain Covid-related safety measures by employers, like providing protective equipment.
“OSHA has worked in good faith to help these three state plans come into compliance,” Jim Frederick, the agency’s acting director, said on a call with reporters. “But their continued refusal is a failure to maintain their state plan commitment to thousands of workers in their state.”
Emily H. Farr, the director of South Carolina’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, expressed disappointment in the action, saying that the state’s program had “proven effective as South Carolina has consistently had one of the lowest injury and illness rates in the nation.”
In a statement, Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, said its workplace safety regulator had told OSHA that it believed the state was already in compliance with the new rule and that it had promptly initiated a rule-making process to “review the mandate” once the federal agency informed the state that it was not in compliance.
Gov. Spencer J. Cox of Utah said in a statement that the state had previously expressed concern to the Labor Department that the rule would place an undue burden on the health care industry. The state rejected the conclusion that its plan was less effective than the federal plan.
Twenty-eight states or territories have OSHA-approved plans for enforcing workplace safety. Where no plan has been approved, OSHA retains primary authority.
The action comes as OSHA prepares to release a rule mandating that companies with 100 or more workers require employees to be vaccinated or to submit to weekly Covid-19 testing. Some states have indicated that they will challenge the rule, though the legal basis for doing so appears weak.
OSHA, which is part of the Labor Department, will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing its proposal to reconsider and revoke approval of the three states’ self-regulation plans. There will be a 35-day comment period on the proposal before it can be finalized.
Seema Nanda, the Labor Department solicitor, said that as a result of the process, the states’ authority to regulate workplace safety could be revoked entirely or partially, such as for certain industries.