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OSHA releases proposed rule for emergency responders

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released a new proposed role to address “the full range of hazards currently facing emergency responders.”

The new Emergency Response Standard, proposed on February 5, 2024, replaces the existing Fire Brigades Standard (29 CFR 1910.156). Public comment is open until May 6, 2024.

According to the proposed rule, the prior standards “were promulgated decades ago, and none was designed as a comprehensive emergency response standard.”

The existing standard, issued in 1980, only covers firefighters and is widely regarded as outdated. The new rule would also cover workers who provide emergency medical service and technical search and rescue.

The new rule is intended to provide basic workplace protections for emergency responders. It incorporates major changes in performance specifications for protective clothing/equipment and safety and health practices.

Under the rule, employers must:

  • Obtain baseline medical screenings for all first responders.
  • Make sure there is continued medical surveillance when responders are exposed to the byproducts of fires and explosions more than 15 times a year.

The new standard will align with current industry consensus standards issued by the National Fire Academy and guidelines from other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. The rule is also intended to consolidate a “patchwork” of state regulations and hazard-specific standards.

While OSHA’s standards do not apply to volunteer emergency responders, state plans have the option of treating volunteers as employees.