OSHA Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for New Emergency Response Standard

In a move to increase the safety and well-being of emergency workers nationwide, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has unveiled a proposal for a new emergency response standard. This proposed rule aims to replace the existing 44-year-old fire brigades standard, established in 1980, with a comprehensive framework tailored to the evolving needs of emergency responders.

Currently, emergency response is governed by a set of hazard-specific OSHA standards, lacking a unified and all-encompassing approach. OSHA acknowledges that these standards do not adequately address the diverse range of hazards encountered by emergency responders and fails to align with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System (NIMS).

The proposed standard seeks to rectify these gaps by extending coverage beyond contractor or employee industrial fire departments to include a broader spectrum of private sector emergency responders. This includes firefighters, emergency medical service providers, and technical search and rescuers, ensuring a more inclusive and effective approach to emergency response.

Requirements of the Proposed Standard:

Alignment with National Frameworks: The standard aligns with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Framework and adopts industry consensus standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Risk Mitigation: Recognizing the multitude of risks faced by emergency responders, the proposed standard addresses personal injuries, acute and chronic health conditions, mental health outcomes, and on-duty fatalities.

Comprehensive Requirements for Emergency Service Organizations: The proposed standard outlines requirements for private sector Emergency Service Organizations (ESOs), Workplace Emergency Response Employers (WEREs), and Workplace Emergency Response Teams (WERTs).

Written Emergency Response Program (ERP): Organizations are mandated to establish and implement a written ERP, updated annually, with team member participation to ensure compliance and protect responders.

Comprehensive Risk Management: A written comprehensive risk management plan based on the type and level of service provided.

Medical Evaluation and Training: Ensuring responders undergo medical evaluations and receive comprehensive training to perform their duties safely.

Safety and Preparedness for Facilities: Requirements for facilities, including the design of living and sleeping quarters.

Equipment and PPE Standards: Guidelines for equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Vehicle and Incident Management: Standards for vehicle preparedness, safe operation, pre-incident planning, incident management system, and safe emergency incident operations.

Post-Incident Analysis and Program Evaluation: Procedures for post-incident analysis and ongoing program evaluation.

Severability: Provisions for severability, ensuring that if any part of the standard is found invalid, others remain in effect.

Additionally, the proposal includes amendments to standards for automatic sprinkler systems, hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER), portable fire extinguishers, respiratory protection, and standpipe hose systems.

This proposed rule signifies a step towards modernizing safety standards for emergency responders, reflecting the dynamic nature of their work and emphasizing a proactive approach to their well-being. OSHA invites stakeholders to engage in the discussion and comment on the proposed rulemaking until May 6, 2024.  Review the proposed emergency response standard HERE.

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