NVFC Continues to Sound Alarm on Proposed OSHA Standard and Clarifies Impact on Non-OSHA States

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) continues to raise awareness on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed Emergency Response Standard and offer resources to help first responders take action. On February 5, OSHA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to replace the agency’s “Fire Brigades” standard with a proposed new “Emergency Response Standard.” This NPRM’s publication triggered the beginning of a public comment period that is scheduled to conclude June 21, 2024.

While many of the proposed provisions would be helpful and improve the safety of emergency responders, the proposed standard contains multiple new requirements that would be very burdensome, and in many cases impossible, for volunteer fire departments to comply with. Nothing in this proposed standard is final and this public comment period is your opportunity to explain to OSHA what you believe should be changed in the proposed standard and why. The NVFC has launched a landing page to assist volunteers in understanding and commenting on this proposed standard, which can be accessed here.

In addition, the NVFC has held several webinars, including two over the past two weeks, to break down the concerns regarding the proposed standards and help responders formulate their comments. These webinars may be viewed here. The NVFC hosting a Roundtable Talk on May 23 at 2pm ET with the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties to highlight areas of mutual concern and provide recommendations on how volunteer departments can collaborate with their local government to express these concerns to OSHA. Register here.

The NVFC has also been raising attention for the proposed OSHA standard in Congress. During the last week, a letter supported by the NVFC has been circulating around the House of Representatives urging OSHA to consider exempting volunteer fire departments from some or all parts of the proposed standard, identify additional areas where financial and logistical burdens could be reduced, and extend the proposed standard’s public comment period. The letter is expected to be sent tomorrow, and so far approximately 40 Members of Congress have signed it.

One of the most frequent questions the NVFC has received is how the proposed standard would impact non-OSHA states (refer to this map to see which states are OSHA states). The answer is this proposed standard would impact non-OSHA states if adopted as written. The immediate impact on non-OSHA states would be related to volunteer fire departments that are nonprofits and unaffiliated with municipalities. Reading through the NPRM on this proposed standard, it appears OSHA is unaware that such departments exist. It is possible that firefighters in these departments would be covered by this standard if they receive any compensation, regardless of the state they live in.

In addition to the immediate impact, the proposed standard would likely have secondary impacts on non-OSHA states. It could be used as a baseline of compliance for the purpose of seeking insurance and judgements in civil liability in every state.