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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.
November 7, 2008
Mr. Philip C. Stittleburg, Chairman
National Volunteer Fire Council
7852 Walker Drive
Greenbelt, MD 20770
Dear Mr. Stittleburg:
Thank you for your letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your letter was forwarded to the Directorate of Enforcement Programs for a response. You requested clarification of OSHA Instruction CPL 02-02-073, Inspection Procedures for 29 CFR 1910.120 and 1926.65, paragraph (q): Emergency Response to Hazardous Substance Releases, as it pertains to emergency response training for firefighters. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not detailed in your original correspondence. Your question is rephrased below followed by OSHA's response.
You asked whether all firefighters must be trained to at least the first responder operations level, or if such training is required only for those firefighters who are expected to respond to and mitigate the releases of hazardous substances. In your letter, you refer to an excerpt from OSHA's compliance directive for emergency responses under OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) – a document that provides enforcement guidance to OSHA's field personnel. The excerpt you refer to reads:
Firefighters expected to respond to releases of hazardous substances must be trained to at least the first responder operations level since they will respond to releases, or potential releases, of hazardous substances for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, property, or the environment.
As this language suggests, it is not the case that all firefighters are required to be trained to the first responder operations level. Firefighters who are not expected to respond to releases or potential releases of hazardous substances and who would take no action beyond notifying appropriate authorities of a hazardous substance release need only be trained to the first responder awareness level. See 29 CFR 1910.120(q)(6)(i). Personnel trained to the first responder awareness level may make an effort to identify hazardous substances, but they must do so from a safe distance. Persons trained to the first responder awareness level have not been trained to select and use appropriate PPE, and they are not permitted to approach the point of release. They have not been trained to establish perimeters or boundaries designating safe and unsafe areas. These actions are to be deferred to more highly trained personnel, such as those trained to the operations or technician/specialist level. See 29 CFR 1910.120(q)(6)(i)-1910.120(q)(6)(iii).
As you may be aware, Federal OSHA does not generally cover volunteer firefighters. While Federal OSHA would cover volunteer companies established as private sector entities, with one or more paid employees, it does not cover state and local government employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 encourages states to assume responsibility for their own occupational safety and health programs under plans approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. Each state plan must provide coverage for public employees of the state and political subdivisions. That coverage must be at least as effective as the coverage provided to private sector employees. Whether volunteer firefighters are covered by a state plan depends on whether the applicable state plan considers them employees for purposes of coverage. For more information about state plans, you can visit OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/index.html. For volunteer firefighters who are not covered by Federal OSHA or an OSHA-approved state plan, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has promulgated a standard identical to OSHA's HAZWOPER standard which protects employees in the public sector, including volunteers engaged in emergency response. See 40 CFR 311.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. 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 appraised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs