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February 05, 2024
OSHA issues emergency response proposal

On February 5, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for a new emergency response standard to replace the agency’s nearly 44-year-old fire brigades standard (89 Fed. Reg. 7774), which was established in 1980.

Emergency response has been covered by a patchwork of hazard-specific OSHA standards, none of which was intended as a comprehensive emergency response standard, according to the agency. Existing federal standards don’t address the full range of hazards emergency responders encounter and don’t reflect changes in performance specifications for protective clothing and equipment or improvements in safety and health practices incorporated into industry consensus standards.

Existing OSHA standards also don’t align with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System (NIMS), which guides all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from emergency incidents.

Fire brigades are contractor or employee industrial fire departments. A new emergency response standard would cover a wider range of private sector emergency responders, including firefighters, emergency medical service providers, and technical search and rescuers.

OSHA’s proposal would establish a standard in line with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Response Framework and align the agency’s standard with current industry consensus standards issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for safely conducting emergency response activities.

Risks emergency responders face include personal injury, such as fractures, sprains, internal bodily trauma, dislocations, chemical burns, and chemical pneumonia; acute and chronic health conditions; adverse mental health outcomes, such as anxiety and depression, burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, and suicidality; and on-duty death.

The requirements of the proposed standard, covering private sector emergency service organizations (ESOs), workplace emergency response employers (WEREs), and workplace emergency response teams (WERTs), would include the following:

  • Establishing and implementing a written emergency response program (ERP), usually updated annually, and involving team member participation to protect each responder and comply with the other requirements of the standard.
  • Developing and implementing a written comprehensive risk management plan based on the type and level of service provided.
  • Medical evaluation of team members and physical requirements necessary to performing emergency response activities.
  • Training to ensure responders have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to safely perform their duties.
  • Safety and preparedness requirements for facilities, including the design of any living and sleeping quarters.
  • Equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements.
  • Vehicle preparedness and safe operation.
  • Pre-incident planning.
  • Development and use of an incident management system that would include a process of escalation in complex responses.
  • Safe emergency incident operations to reduce the risk of injury or fatality.
  • Standard operating procedures.
  • Post-incident analysis.
  • Program evaluation.
  • Severability. If any provisions of the standard are found invalid or unenforceable, others would remain in effect.

Besides an overhaul of the fire brigades standard to establish an emergency response standard, the proposal also would make amendments to the standards for automatic sprinkler systems, hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER), portable fire extinguishers, respiratory protection, and standpipe hose systems.

Comments on the NPRM are due May 6.

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