Department Of Labor Takes A Bold Move To Update Emergency Response Worker Protections

emergency response workers wearing appropriate protection

The United States Department of Labor has taken a groundbreaking step to ensure the safety of our nation's emergency response workers. This initiative, spearheaded by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), aims to modernize and expand the safety and health protections for those who are the first to respond in crises, including firefighters, emergency medical service providers, and technical search and rescue workers. This development is a crucial update that aligns with the country’s commitment to protecting our first responders.

Key Takeaways:

  • OSHA is updating the "Fire Brigades" standard to better protect a diverse range of emergency responders.
  • Existing OSHA standards are outdated, failing to fully cover the risks faced by emergency workers.
  • The new "Emergency Response" standard emphasizes comprehensive protection and health monitoring for first responders.
  • This move reflects the government's commitment to modernizing workplace safety and preparedness standards.

OSHA's Proposed Rule: Modernizing the 'Fire Brigades' Standard

For decades, the "Fire Brigades" standard, first published in 1980, has served as a guideline for protecting a specific group of industrial and private firefighters. However, the limitations of this standard have become increasingly apparent, failing to cover the comprehensive range of hazards faced by today's diverse emergency response workforce. OSHA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, set to be published in January 2024, aims to rectify this by updating the standard to the newly named "Emergency Response" standard. This change reflects a significant leap in aligning safety and health protections with the current industry practices and national consensus standards.

The Current Challenge: Addressing Outdated and Incomplete Standards

Emergency response workers in America face considerable occupational health and safety hazards in dynamic and unpredictable work environments. The current OSHA emergency preparedness and emergency management standards are outdated and incomplete, failing to address the full range of hazards faced by emergency responders. These standards lag behind changes in protective equipment performance and industry practices, conflict with industry consensus standards, and are not aligned with many current emergency response guidelines provided by other federal agencies, such as DHS/FEMA.

Expanding Protections for a Broad Range of Emergency Workers

The proposed rule aims to replace the existing OSHA Fire Brigades standard, 29 CFR 1910.156, which has only had minor updates since its promulgation in 1980 and covers only a subset of present-day emergency responders. The modernized "Emergency Response" standard is not just a name change. It signifies a major shift in how emergency responders are protected in their line of duty. It addresses the diverse and dynamic nature of emergencies faced today, from fires to technical rescues, ensuring that safety measures are comprehensive and up-to-date. This new focus of the Emergency Response rule is to provide basic workplace protections for workers who respond to emergencies as part of their regularly assigned duties, including those providing emergency medical service and technical search and rescue.

Health and Safety: A Top Priority

“Emergency responders are critical workers in all of our communities, and they deserve protections that keep up with today's emergency preparedness practices,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker, emphasizing the critical role of emergency responders in our communities. The proposed rule requires employers to obtain baseline medical screening for all emergency responders and ensure continued medical surveillance for first responders when they are exposed to the byproducts of fires and explosions more than 15 times annually. This approach not only safeguards the physical health of the workers but also ensures their long-term well-being.

A Step Towards a Safer Tomorrow

OSHA looks forward to receiving comments and other input from interested stakeholders and the general public. This step indicates a commitment to an inclusive and thorough review process, ensuring the proposed rule is well-rounded and effective in meeting the needs of today's emergency response workers, including those in search and rescue operations.

As we continue to strive for a safer workplace, it's heartening to see the Department of Labor taking decisive steps to protect our emergency responders through improved emergency management and preparedness. This proposed rule is a testament to the evolving nature of workplace safety and the government's commitment to keeping pace with industry advancements. It's a call to action for everyone in the field to reassess and align our practices with these emerging standards, ensuring a safer tomorrow for everyone.


What is emergency response?

Emergency response is the organized and coordinated set of actions taken in response to an incident or emergency situation. These actions aim to minimize the impact of the event and ensure safety, including immediate medical aid, firefighting, and evacuation procedures.

What are the 5 basic emergency responses?

The five basic emergency responses are:

  • Prevention: Taking steps to prevent emergencies.
  • Preparedness: Planning and training for potential emergencies.
  • Response: Immediate action taken during an emergency.
  • Recovery: Activities to return to normal operations.
  • Mitigation: Efforts to reduce the severity of future emergencies.

What are the 5 levels of emergency response?

The five levels of emergency response typically refer to the severity and scale of the response required, which can vary based on the situation. They are often categorized as:

  • Level 1: Localized incident, minor assistance needed.
  • Level 2: Larger incident, regional assistance required.
  • Level 3: Major incident, statewide resources involved.
  • Level 4: Large-scale disaster, national assistance required.
  • Level 5: Catastrophic event, international aid and response needed.

What are the 6 basic steps in an emergency?

The six basic steps in an emergency are:

  • Identify the emergency.
  • Alert relevant authorities or responders.
  • Evacuate or shelter in place as appropriate.
  • Provide immediate assistance and first aid if trained.
  • Follow instructions from emergency personnel.
  • Recovery and assessment after the emergency.

What are the steps of emergency response planning?

The steps of emergency response planning include:

  1. Conducting a risk assessment.
  2. Developing emergency procedures.
  3. Establishing a communication plan.
  4. Training and drills for employees.
  5. Reviewing and updating the plan regularly.

What is the preparedness of emergency?

Emergency preparedness refers to the measures taken to prepare for and reduce the effects of emergencies. This includes creating plans, conducting training and drills, securing resources, and ensuring effective communication systems are in place to handle potential emergencies efficiently.

What are the 4 pillars of emergency preparedness?

The four pillars of emergency preparedness are:

  • Mitigation: Measures taken to reduce the effects of an emergency.
  • Preparedness: Planning and preparing to handle an emergency.
  • Response: The actions taken during an emergency.
  • Recovery: Efforts to restore normalcy after an emergency.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


Shop Tradesafe Products

Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.