Site Visit: Advocacy Visits Fairbanks Area Fire Officials to Discuss Possible OSHA Rulemaking

By Bruce Lundegren, Assistant Chief Counsel

The SBA Office of Advocacy visited with fire officials from the Fairbanks and Steese fire departments during its recent visit to Alaska.  The primary topic of discussion was a possible rulemaking on Emergency Response procedures from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  The contemplated OSHA standard would cover workers whose job is to respond to emergencies, such as industrial and municipal fire fighters, fire brigades, emergency response teams, technical rescuers, and emergency medical service providers.  OSHA notified Advocacy in February 2019 that it planned to convene a small business panel to examine this possible rulemaking under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), so Advocacy wanted to hear directly from small fire departments who could be affected.

Officials at the meeting—including Jim Styers, chief of the Fairbanks fire department, Mitch Flynn, chief of the Steese Volunteer Fire Department, and Deputy Scott Learned—expressed concern about the possible rule because of its complicated planning provisions and the potential impact on their departments’ budgets.  They stated that such provisions as formal organizational risk management, medical and fitness requirements, additional training and qualifications, and vehicle and personal protective equipment would be too costly, particularly for small volunteer fire departments with tight budgets.  In fact, the two departments had recently met with Alaska’s occupational safety and health officials and then sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the acting head of OSHA outlining their opposition to the possible rule.

OSHA is required to convene a SBREFA panel before it can propose a rule that is expected to have a significant impact on small entities.  (Small entities include small businesses, small non-profit organizations, and small governmental jurisdictions with a population less than 50,000.)  SBREFA panels are comprised of government officials from OSHA, Advocacy, and Office of Management and Budget.  The panels review background materials about the rule and hear directly from regulated small entities who provide their advice and recommendations about the possible rule.  The panel then issues a report on its findings to the head of OSHA.

Advocacy has met with other fire department officials to discuss this possible rule, including the Libertytown, Md., Volunteer Fire Department, who expressed similar concerns and reservations about OSHA’s plan.  Further information about this possible rulemaking and the SBREFA panel process is available on OSHA’s Emergency Response webpage at https://www.osha.gov/dsg/ersbrefa/


Advocacy was in Alaska for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables July 9-11.

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Bruce Lundegren is an Assistant Chief Counsel for Advocacy whose portfolio includes safety, transportation, and security. Lundegren can be reached at bruce.lundegren@sba.gov.

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