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Emergency Preparedness and Response: Getting Started

OSHA’s Role in Emergency Response

OSHA staff provided technical assistance to other federal, state, and local agencies during the response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012

OSHA staff provided technical assistance to other federal, state, and local agencies during the response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Response organizations (i.e., entities responding to an emergency) typically have ways to protect their workers from foreseeable emergencies. However, some emergencies or disasters overwhelm the safety and health capabilities of response organizations because of the severity of the hazards, the geographic area, and/or the number of workers needed for the response. When large-scale emergencies occur, OSHA can be a critical resource to help response and recovery organizations protect their workers

OSHA's primary authority comes from powers assigned to the Secretary of Labor in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 (Pub. L. 91-596). OSHA standards are codified in various parts of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The OSHA Law & Regulations page provides additional information about the OSH Act and OSHA standards.

While the OSH Act itself generally applies to private sector employers, it allows states to assume responsibility for occupational safety and health for private sector employers and workers, as well as state and local employers and workers in the state.

OSHA can be activated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to lead implementation of the National Response Framework (NRF) Worker Safety and Health Support Annex to protect the safety and health of response and recovery workers. Under this Annex, OSHA has the authority to provide technical assistance and support to local, state, federal, tribal, territorial, and insular area agencies.

OSHA and the cooperating agencies listed in the Worker Safety and Health Support Annex can assist such agencies with:

  • risk assessment and management
  • identification, assessment, and control of health and safety hazards
  • development and oversight of health and safety plans (HASPs)
  • worker exposure monitoring, sampling, and analysis
  • personal protective equipment (PPE) program development and implementation, including monitoring, selection, fit-testing (e.g., for respirators), and decontamination
  • incident-specific worker safety and health training
  • communication of safety and health information to workers and employers

Under the National Contingency Plan, OSHA, as the Department of Labor's representative on the National Response Team (NRT) and Regional Response Teams (RRT), provides technical assistance and support, resources, and coordination on preparedness, planning, response and recovery activities for emergencies involving hazardous substances, pollutants and contaminants, oil, and weapons of mass destruction in natural and technological disasters and other environmental incidents of national significance. Section 300.175 of the National Contingency Plan details OSHA's responsibilities under the plan.

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OSHA Resource

The "Emergency Response: Protecting Worker Safety and Health Under the National Response Framework" QuickCard™ (HTML, PDF) describes OSHA's activities during emergency response operations.

As disaster response efforts transition to recovery work, the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) provides context for how the whole community—including OSHA—works together to restore, redevelop and revitalize the health, social, economic, natural and environmental fabric of the community.

Under the authority of the OSH Act and the other planning frameworks in which it operates, described above, OSHA can provide coordination, technical assistance, and support from the National Office in Washington, DC, regional offices, and area offices across the nation. Additionally, OSHA has a Specialized Response Team (SRT) that maintains and rapidly deploys with special response equipment and incident management skills, and provides technical expertise in worker protection during incidents. Specific technical expertise and support capabilities of the SRT include:  toxic chemicals (including chemical warfare agents), biological agents, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, collapsed structures, demolition, and other construction-type activities.

During disaster response and recovery operations, even when OSHA is operating in a technical assistance and support mode, OSHA standards remain in effect and OSHA retains its ability to enforce the OSHA standards under the OSH Act. Enforcement of OSHA standards follows the jurisdiction in place before the emergency, such as in states operating OSHA-approved occupational safety and health programs called State Plans. There are 28 states and U.S. territories with OSHA State Plans. State Plans have and enforce their own occupational safety and health standards that are required to be at least as effective as OSHA's but may have different or additional requirements. OSHA's federal offices provide coordination, technical assistance, support services, and oversight in all 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

OSHA's On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. To locate the OSHA On-site Consultation Program nearest you, call 1-800-321-OSHA (3742) or visit OSHA's small business web page.

Additionally, OSHA Compliance Assistance Specialists, located in OSHA area offices throughout the nation, can provide information to workers and employers about OSHA standards, educational programs on specific hazards or OSHA rights and responsibilities, and additional compliance assistance resources. Compliance Assistance Specialists also promote OSHA's training resources and the tools available on the OSHA web site.

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