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ISEA Makes Request For New Safety Standards; Fire Service Affected
By Captain James Benjamin, MS, CSHM, CFEI

Shortly after John Henshaw was named the new OSHA Chief, the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) drafted a letter requesting new or updated safety standards.  As you will see, some of these standards could affect the fire and emergency services.

Some of the topics covered by the ISEA letter were:

1) Assigned Protection Factors (APF) – The ISEA requested that OSHA revise its respirator standard by adding an APF table.  This table would be used to guide employers and employees in choosing the most appropriate level of respiratory protection.  Although OSHA revised its respirator rule in 1998, it was revised without an APF table.

Since the fire service uses SCBAs for most emergencies, this standard (if updated) would have the greatest impact on general industry.  However, those departments with Special Operations or Technical Rescue Units could be affected by this revision.  These teams often times use air purifying respirators during some of their operations.  Respirator use and selection has been a hot topic in the safety field for many years and it doesn’t look like this is going to change anytime soon.  ISEA hopes that by adding the APF table respirator selection would be made much easier for both the employer and employees.

2) Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection - OSHA proposed an update to this standard in 1990, aimed at giving general industry the same level of protection against slips, trips and falls that is required in the construction industry.  According to ISEA, OSHA should finalize this standard in the near future.

It should be noted that fall protection is one of most frequently cited infractions by OSHA.  With this in mind, fire departments have been looking for new and improved ways to protect their personnel from falls.  As you know, this will not be an easy fix. To that end, there are a handful of integrated fall protection/SCBA systems that are currently on the drawing board and are awaiting further development and field-testing.

With increasing pressure from both OSHA and NIOSH, the days of the old waist ladder belts are numbered (finally).  Waist belts have not been allowed for use in general industry for a number of years.  This is due to the fact that when a person falls, and is attached to a waist belt; the force of the fall causes the body to hyperextend and can cause severe trauma to the spinal column.  Lets face it, the fire service needs to embrace this cause and assist the safety industry in designing practical fall protection systems for OUR profession.

3) Hearing conservation in construction and general industry - ISEA wants OSHA to publish specific rules for hearing protection in construction, and begin to reevaluate the permissible noise level for general industry.

As some of you know, employers are required to administer a continuing, effective hearing conservation program whenever an employee is exposed to noise levels equal or exceeding an 8-hour time-weighted average sound level (TWA) of 85dB.  Fire department Safety and Health Officers need to take note and consider establishing a requirement for obtaining baseline audiograms during the pre-employment and annual physicals.  Annual audiograms should be made part of the annual physicals after there is a well-established baseline.

Again, these are just a few of the items outlined in the ISEA letter to OSHA.  I can’t stress how important it is for Fire Department Safety Officers (FDSO) to keep abreast of the current OSHA and NFPA regulations.  Yes, reading all the standards and regulations can be boring and cumbersome, but a little time and effort up front can save you 100 times over in the long run.

About the author: Captain James Benjamin is a career Safety Professional for a global chemical company in Cincinnati and a Part-time Captain on the Glendale Fire Department, which is a historic residential community just North of Cincinnati, Ohio. He serves as the contributing editor of the newly developed Safety Section of the With the Command website.