OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.

December 15, 1998

The Honorable Jeff Bingaman
United States Senator
105 West Third St, Suite 409
Roswell, NM 88201

Dear Senator Bingaman:

This is in response to your letter dated August 4, addressed to Mr. Craig Obey, Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Office of Intra-Governmental Affairs, concerning our "two-in/two-out" policy. In particular, you have asked if this requirement can be waived for smaller communities. Please accept my apology for the delay in response.

The "two-in/two-out" policy is part of paragraph (g)(4) of OSHA's revised respiratory protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.134. This paragraph applies to private sector workers engaged in interior structural fire fighting and to Federal employees covered under Section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. States that have chosen to operate OSHA-approved occupational safety and health state plans are required to extend their jurisdiction to include employees of their state and local governments. These states are required to adopt a standard at least as effective as the Federal standard within six months. The extension of this standard to volunteer fire fighters is a matter decided by each State and is often dependent on whether volunteers are considered "employees" under State law.

The respiratory protection standard requires that workers engaged in fighting interior structural fires work in a buddy system; at least two workers must enter the building together, so that they can monitor each other's whereabouts as well as the work environment. There must also be at least two standby personnel outside the fire area prepared to rescue the inside firefighters should the need arise. One of these outside firefighters must actively monitor the status of the inside fighters but the second outside firefighter may perform a variety of other duties, such as pump operations, incident commander or outside hose line operation. There are no provisions in the standard to waive the requirements for either the "two-inside firefighters" or the "two-outside firefighters", although the circumstances under which this provision applies are more limited than generally understood.

The standard does not require the "two-in/two-out" provision if the fire is still in the incipient stage and it does not prohibit firefighters from fighting the fire from outside before sufficient personnel have arrived. It also does not prohibit firefighters from entering a burning structure to perform rescue operations when there is a reasonable belief that victims may be inside. It is only when firefighters are engaged in the interior attack of an interior structural firefighting that the "two-in/two-out" requirement applies. It is the incident commander's responsibility to judge whether a fire is an interior structural fire and how it will be attacked.

The New Mexico Environment Department operates its own occupational safety and health program under a plan approved and closely monitored by federal OSHA. Their program is primarily responsible for enforcement of the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard in New Mexico. The State of New Mexico has adopted a revised Respiratory Protection standard which is identical to the Federal standard. New Mexico also has a separate public sector firefighter standard which addresses a number of issues but also incorporates the provisions of the revised Respiratory Protection standard - including the "two-in/two-out" provision. However, New Mexico's public sector standard does not apply to volunteers. While OSHA believes that the protections afforded by the Respiratory Protection standard are reasonable and that volunteers should not face unnecessary risks, it is up to the State to decide whether to extend its enforcement jurisdiction to volunteer firefighters. If you have further questions on New Mexico's enforcement policies, you may contact:

Peter Maggiore, Secretary
New Mexico Environment Department
1190 St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, NM 87502
(505) 827-2850

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health.

 

Sincerely,

Charles N. Jeffress
Assistant Secretary

cc: Washington, DC Office