New Emergency Response and Preparedness Standard at OSHA

In the wake of significant multiple-firefighter LODDs in recent years and recognizing an opportunity to do more to safeguard emergency responders across a wide range of emergency-service organizations (ESOs), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has requested that the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Labor on a proposed emergency response and preparedness (ERP) safety standard.

To meet the Secretary of Labor’s charge, NACOSH has formed a working subcommittee to develop draft regulations envisioned under OSHA. OSHA staff members have developed draft language that serves as the basis for consideration and work of the ERP subcommittee.

The draft language is being developed to possibly replace the standard that governs the establishment and existence of fire brigades and private fire departments. It references national consensus standards, including NFPA 1500, 1561, 1582, 1701, 1720, 1971, 1981 and 1851, as well as other OSHA regulations.

The scope of the proposed language defines ESOs for the first time, generally describing them as

entities that provide one or more of the following services, as a primary function of the entity, such as: firefighting, fire rescue, emergency medical service, technical rescue (trench/excavation, confined space, rope/high angle, mine/cave), vehicle/machinery rescue, water rescue/recovery (land/shore based, swiftwater, underwater), hazardous materials spill/release mitigation, search and rescue (urban, mountain, wilderness).

Although significant, it’s important to understand the potential impact of proposed regulations and the rule-making process.

First, the rule will only apply to organizations that are already required to comply with federal OSHA or state plan regulations. Many organizations with emergency responders (primarily state, county and municipal employers) don’t fall under OSHA jurisdiction.

Currently, 26 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved state plans; 22 state plans (21 states and one U.S. territory) cover both private and state and local government workplaces. The remaining six state plans (five states and one U.S. territory) cover state and local government workers only.

Second, the rule-making process is laborious and is expected to take up to seven years to reach final adoption and publication. Establishing the ERP subcommittee is an early component in a multistep process, requiring analysis of the economic impact of any proposed changes to existing regulations and affording all stakeholders and the general public ample time to comment. Once adopted, legal challenges must also be settled and interpretation guides for affected agencies published and distributed.

Finally, it’s important to identify the advisory nature of the ERP subcommittee to NACOSH and the Department of Labor. Neither NACOSH nor its subcommittees have any independent rule-making authority under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Notwithstanding these facts, the consideration of a comprehensive rule designed to protect ESO responders is tremendously important because it seeks to address a conspicuous absence of safety-centric regulations over an industry widely regarded as one of the most hazardous.

The draft regulations address such components as a requirement for an ESO to define its mission and adopt a risk-management plan. It also establishes requirements for

  • responder preparedness (medical/physicals; training/certification)
  • utilization of an incident-management system, including a trained and certified incident commander and incident safety officer
  • preincident planning and post-incident analysis
  • facility and equipment preparedness

Interested stakeholders across the emergency-services community are strongly encouraged to review the proposed language and closely follow the work of the ERP subcommittee.

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