• Information Date:
  • Agreement Agency:
    Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Memorandum of Understanding
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration


1. The purpose of this Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to delineate the general areas of responsibility of each agency; to describe generally the efforts of the agencies to achieve worker protection at facilities licensed by the NRC; and to provide guidelines for coordination of interface activities between the two agencies. If NRC licensees observe OSHA's standards and regulations, this will help minimize workplace hazards.

2. Both NRC and OSHA have jurisdiction over occupational safety and health at NRC-licensed facilities. Because it is not always practical to sharply identify boundaries between the nuclear and radiological safety NRC regulates and the industrial safety OSHA regulates, a coordinated interagency effort can insure against gaps in the protection of workers and at the same time, avoid duplication of effort. This memorandum replaces an existing procedure for interagency activities, "General Guidelines for Interface Activities between the NRC Regional Offices and the OSHA."


3. There are four kinds of hazards that may be associated with NRC-licensed nuclear facilities:

  1. Radiation risk produced by radioactive materials;

  2. Chemical risk produced by radioactive materials;

  3. Plant conditions which affect the safety of radioactive materials and thus present an increased radiation risk to workers. For example, these might produce a fire or an explosion, and thereby cause a release of radioactive materials or an unsafe reactor condition; and,

  4. Plant conditions which result in an occupational risk, but do not affect the safety of licensed radioactive materials. For example, there might be exposure to toxic nonradioactive materials and other industrial hazards in the workplace.

Generally, NRC covers the first three hazards listed in paragraph 3 (a, b, and c), and OSHA covers the fourth hazard described in paragraph 3 (d). NRC and OSHA responsibilities and actions are described more fully in paragraph 4 and 5 below.


4. NRC is responsible for licensing and regulating nuclear facilities and materials and for conducting research in support of the licensing and regulatory process, as mandated by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended; the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, as amended; and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978; and in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended, and other applicable statutes. These NRC responsibilities cover the first three nuclear facility hazards identified in paragraph 3 (a, b, and c). NRC does not have statutory authority for the fourth hazard described in paragraph 3 (d).

NRC responsibilities include protecting public health and safety; protecting the environment; protecting and safeguarding materials and plants in the interest of national security; and assuring conformity with antitrust laws for certain types of facilities, e.g., nuclear power reactors. Agency functions are performed through: standards-setting and rulemaking; technical reviews and studies; conduct of public hearings; issuance of authorizations, permits and licenses; inspection, investigation and enforcement; evaluation of operating experience; and confirmatory research.


5. OSHA is responsible for administering the requirements established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) (29 U.S.C. 651 et seq.), which was enacted in 1970. OSHA's authority to engage in the kinds of activities described below does not apply to those workplace safety and health conditions for which other Federal agencies exercise statutory authority to prescribe and enforce standards, rules or regulations.

Under the OSH Act, every employer has a general duty to furnish each employee with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm and to comply with all OSHA standards, rules, and regulations.

OSHA standards contain requirements designed to protect employees against workplace hazards. In general, safety standards are intended to protect against traumatic injury, while health standards are designed to address potential overexposure to toxic substances and harmful physical agents, and protect against illnesses which do not manifest themselves for many years after initial exposure.

OSHA standards cover employee exposures from all radiation sources not regulated by NRC. Examples include x-ray equipment, accelerators, accelerator-produced materials, electron microscopes and betatrons, and naturally occurring radioactive materials such as radium.

It is estimated that the Act covers nearly 6 million workplaces employing more than 80 million workers. Federal OSHA covers approximately three-fifths, or four million, of these workplaces. States which operate OSHA-approved job safety and health programs, or "Plans," cover the remainder.

OSHA State Plan States are encouraged, but not required, to delineate their authority for occupational safety and health at NRC-licensed facilities in the same manner as Federal OSHA.

The OSHA areas of responsibility described in this memorandum are subject to all applicable requirements and authorities of the OSH Act. However, the industrial safety record at NRC-licensed nuclear power plants is such that OSHA inspections at these facilities are conducted normally as a result of accidents, fatalities, referrals, or worker complaints.


6. In recognition of the agencies' authorities and responsibilities enumerated above, the following procedures will be followed:

Although NRC does not conduct inspections of industrial safety, in the course of inspections of radiological and nuclear safety, NRC personnel may identify safety concerns within the area of OSHA responsibility or may receive complaints from an employee about OSHA-covered working conditions. In such instances, NRC will bring the matter to the attention of licensee management. NRC inspectors are not to perform the role of OSHA inspectors; however, they are to elevate OSHA safety issues to the attention of NRC Regional management when appropriate. If significant safety concerns are identified or if the licensee demonstrates a pattern of unresponsiveness to identified concerns, the NRC Regional Office will inform the appropriate OSHA Regional Office. In the case of complaints, NRC will withhold, from the licensee, the identity of the employee. In addition, when known to NRC, NRC will encourage licensees to report to OSHA accidents resulting in a fatality or multiple hospitalizations.

When such instances occur within OSHA State Plan States' jurisdiction, the OSHA Regional Office will refer the matter to the State for appropriate action.

7. OSHA Regional Offices will inform the appropriate NRC Regional Office of matters which are in the purview of NRC, when these come to their attention during Federal or State safety and health inspections or through complaints. The following are examples of matters that would be reported to the NRC:

  1. Lax security control or work practices that would affect nuclear or radiological health and safety.

  2. Improper posting of radiation areas.

  3. Licensee employee allegations of NRC license or regulation violations.

8. The NRC and OSHA need not normally conduct joint inspections at NRC-licensed facilities. However, under certain conditions, such as investigations or inspections following accidents or resulting from reported activities as discussed in items 6 and 7 above, it may be mutually agreed on a case-by-case basis that joint investigations are in the public interest.

9. The chemical processing of nuclear materials at some NRC-licensed fuel and materials facilities presents chemical and nuclear operational safety hazards which can best be evaluated by joint NRC-OSHA team assessments. Each agency will make its best efforts to support such assessments at about 20 facilities once every five years. Of these facilities, about one-third are in the OSHA Plan States. OSHA will also assist in promoting such participation by State personnel in OSHA Plan States.

10. Based upon reports of injury or complaints at nuclear power plant sites, OSHA will provide NRC with information on those sites where increased management attention to worker safety is needed. The NRC will bring such information indicating significant breakdown in worker safety to the attention of licensee management and monitor corrective actions. This will not interfere with OSHA authority and responsibility to investigate industrial accidents and worker complaints.

11. Power reactor sites are inspected by NRC Region-based and Resident Inspectors. Personnel from NRC Regional Offices routinely conduct inspections at most fuel and materials licensed facilities. In order to enhance the ability of NRC personnel to identify safety matters under OSHA purview during nuclear and radiological safety inspections, OSHA will provide NRC Regional personnel with basic chemical and industrial safety training and indoctrination in OSHA safety standards, consistent with ongoing OSHA training programs. To enhance the ability of OSHA and State Plan personnel to effectively participate in the Operational Safety Team Assessments, NRC will provide training in basic radiation safety requirements, consistent with ongoing NRC training programs. Details of such training will be as mutually agreed by the NRC Technical Training Center and the OSHA National Training Institute.

12. Resolution of policy issues concerning agency jurisdiction and operational relations will be coordinated by the NRC Deputy Executive Director for Operations, and by the OSHA Director of Policy. Appropriate Headquarters points of contact will be established.

13. Resolution of issues concerning inspection and enforcement activities involving both NRC and OSHA jurisdiction at NRC-licensed facilities will be handled between NRC's Office of Enforcement and OSHA's Directorate of Compliance Programs. Each NRC and OSHA Regional Office will designate points of contact for carrying out interface activities.



Victor Stello, Jr.
Executive Director for Operations


John A. Pendergrass Executive
Assistant Secretary

October 21, 1988