Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

OSHA proposing Emergency Response Standard

Posted by Jon Elliott on Fri, Jan 19, 2024

pexels-quang-nguyen-vinh-14776530On December 21`, 2023, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to develop an Emergency Response Standard that will update, expand and supersede OSHA’s existing Fire Brigades Standard. The new standard will extend detailed OSHA protections to additional emergency responders, including not just firefighters but also emergency medical service providers and technical search and rescue workers. The rest of this note describes these proposed changes.

Who does the existing Fire Brigades Standard protect, and how? 

First adopted in 1980, OSHA’s Fire Brigades Standard applies when employers enlist employees into formal organizational groups trained and equipped to fight onsite “interior structural fires” (29 CFR 1910.156). The Standard covers “fire brigades, industrial fire departments and private or contractual type fire departments;” which are defined (in related 29 CFR 1910.155) as “Fire brigade (private fire department, industrial fire department) means an organized group of employees who are knowledgeable, trained, and skilled in at least basic fire fighting operations.” This Standard does not apply to airport crash rescue or forest fire fighting operations, to employers who rely on employees who use fire extinguishers or standpipe systems to “control or extinguish fires only in the incipient stage,” or employers who rely on offsite responders (call 911).  

Employers subject to this existing Standard must do the following: 

  • Prepare and implement a written fire brigade policy that describes: 
  • existence and basic organizational structure of the fire brigade 
  • types, amount, and frequency of training provided to fire brigade members 
  • expected number of fire brigade members 
  • fire brigade functions, including responses to any “special hazards” (including flammable liquids, toxic chemicals, radioactive sources, and water reactive substances) 
  • ensure that all members are physically able to perform their duties 
  • provide, maintain, and inspect appropriate equipment, protective clothing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and respiratory protection 

What is OSHA proposing? 

OSHA notes that the existing Fire Brigades Standard and related standards were not designed to provide comprehensive emergency response standards, and have not been significantly revised or updated since their adoption decades ago. The proposed revisions “would expand the scope of OSHA’s standard to include a broad range of hazards emergency responders encounter during emergency response activities and would bring the standard in line with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Response Framework and modernize the standard to align with the current industry consensus standards issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) on the safe conduct of emergency response activities.” 

  • Updating definitions for the new Standard and related standards

OSHA would revise existing 29 CFR 1910.155 by revising definitions applicable throughout its fire-related standards including the new Emergency Response Standard. Revisions would specify additional types of flammable materials, fires consuming such materials, and types of equipment to be used by emergency responders. 

  • Replacing the Fire Brigades Standard with an Emergency Response Standard

OSHA would completely replace the text of 29 CFR 1910.156 to expand coverage and requirements. The new text is much more extensive, and organized into subsections as follows: 

1. Scope 

The new scope covers  

  • “workplace emergency response teams,” whose members are formally assigned emergency response duties as collateral duties in  
    addition to their routine duties

  • Employers that are “emergency service organizations (ESOs)” that exist to provide emergency response services (such as fire departments).

It does not cover disaster response teams or agencies, or activities separately regulated under OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard or Permit-Required Confined Spaces standard. 

2. Definitions 

This subsection presents 38 definitions. 

  • Organization of the WERT [Workplace Emergency Response Team], and Establishment of the ERP [Emergency Response Program] and Emergency Service(s) Capability. 

Workplace Emergency Response Employers (i.e., those with ER Teams) must prepare written Emergency Response Programs, which are to include a facility vulnerability assessment to define possible emergencies and the resources necessary for response, and formal establishment of an appropriate Emergency Response Team. This subsection establishes organizational, procedural and content requirements. 

  • ESO Establishment of ERP and Emergency Service(s) Capability 

This subsection sets forth procedural and substantive requirement for Emergency Services organizations. 

  • Team Member and Responder Participation 

Employers must involve emergency response team members and responders in the development and implementation of the ERP, including onsite inspections and incident reporting and response. 

  • WERT and ESO Risk Management Plan 

This subsection specifies actions by the employer to develop a comprehensive risk management plan covering activities that involve or create exposure to the onsite hazards. 

  • Medical and Physical Requirements 

Employers must establish appropriate medical and physical requirements for team members, and implement appropriate evaluation, monitoring and record keeping. 

  • Training 

Employers must establish training and skill requirements for team members and responders, and provide initial and ongoing training to ensure that each participant meets applicable standards and is aware of applicable ERP provisions. Employers must not allow participants to undertake actions for which they are not qualified. 

  • WERE Facility Preparedness 

WERE facilities must comply with OSHA’s Access/Egress, PPE, and fire protection standards (including as appropriate hoses, standpipes and fire hydrants; and fire detection, suppression and alarms); and that physical and procedural interconnections are adequate. 

  • ESO Facility Preparedness 

ESO facilities must comply with requirements comparable to those provided in subsection (i). 

  • Equipment and PPE 

Employers must provide and maintain appropriate PPE. This subsection references NFPA technical standards. 

  • Vehicle Preparedness and Operation 

Employers must provide and maintain vehicles as appropriate, and ensure that participants operate them appropriately. 

  • WERE Pre-Incident Planning 

WEREs are to develop pre-incident plans (PIPs) covering locations with identified hazards, with appropriate equipment available and ERT members and responders trained in where and how to use them. 

  • ESO Pre-Incident Planning 

ESOs must comply with requirements comparable to those in subsection (m). 

  • Incident Management System Development 

Employers are to implement appropriate Incident Management Systems, consistent with hazard assessments, PIPs and available resources. These are to be consistent with the Incident Command (IC) or Unified Command (UC) System, subject to detailed directives in the new Standard. 

  • Emergency Incident Operations 

Employers must establish and implement an IC or UC system, subject to detailed directives in the new Standard. 

  • Standard Operating Procedures 

Employers are to develop SOPs, based on types of incidents considered likely to occur, based on hazard evaluations and consistent with ERPs. 

  • Post-incident Analysis 

Employers must conduct prompt post-incident analyses, to evaluate the effectiveness of planning and response efforts, and to identify and implement necessary changes. 

  • Program Evaluation 

Employers must evaluate the adequacy and effectiveness of each ERP at least annually, and identify and implement necessary changes. 

  • Severability 

Each subsection of this new Standard is to be considered severable from all others, to minimize disruption to the Standard if any portions are held to be unenforceable or invalid. 

  • Making conforming revisions to other standards

The NPRM includes proposed revisions to other OSHA standards addressing emergency planning or response in different contexts. These include the HAZWOPER Standard (29 CFR 1910.120), Respiratory Protection Standard (1910.134), scope and definitions for fire-related standards (1910.155), Portable Fire Extinguishers Standard (1910.157), Standpipe and Hose Systems Standard (1910.158), and Automatic sprinkler systems Standr (1910.159). 

What happens next? 

OSHA expects to publish the NPRM in the Federal Register during January 2024, and public comments will be due within 90 days thereafter. OSHA then anticipates moving to adopt final regulations. 

Self-Assessment Checklist 

Does the organization operate an organized fire response team (fire brigade or industrial fire department) at any of its facilities? 

  • If so, does it comply with OSHA’s Fire Brigade Standard or a similar state standard? 

Does the organization operate any other incident response organization at any of its facilities, dealing with incidents other than or in addition to fires, such as emergency medical response or response to non-fire emergencies? 

  • If so, does it comply with relevant OSHA, state or local (such as fire code -based) standards? 

Is the organization reviewing this NPRM, and if so will it submit comments? 

Where Do I Go For More Information? 

Information available via the Internet includes: 

  • OSHA 

 - Emergency Response Rulemaking webpage

 - proposed Emergency Response Standard (prepublication version) 

 - existing Fire Brigades Standard (29 CFR 1910.156) 

About the Author

jon_f_elliottJon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 30 years. 

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

Tags: Health & Safety, OSHA, Fire Prevention, Fire Safety, NPRM