There exists today no entity which is not governed by policies, rules, and regulations, and the fire service is no exception. In the absence of rules and regulations our world would blossom into a nightmarish environment. Therefore, the need for some type of control mechanism. Unlike other services though, the fire service has a responsibility to protect lives and property from the ravages of a variety of hostile forces, natural and man-made. As a result, the firefighter is typically in a dangerous environment of emergency response and hazardous situations, loss control policies, rules and regulations become critical to develop and adhere to.
The regulations controlling firefighters can be promulgated in a number of ways. At the federal level, state level, regional/county level, or within the department/municipality. Traditionally, however, loss prevention rules have been implemented only if mandated by law or by the insurance carrier and seldom if ever, by the department "on its own". Whatever regulations govern your department should be obtained, reviewed, compiled with, and a copy maintained as reference and educational material. Although not all fire departments are subject to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 has been the single most significant regulatory legislation dealing with loss prevention.
Let's look at the intent of the regulation. Even though the law may not apply, we still want the fundamental purpose of the legislation to be met to assure as much as possible that firefighters can perform in as safe an environment as possible. The objectives are five-fold:
- Establish mandatory standards
- Enforce the established standards
- Define the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers while achieving desired objectives
- Conduct research
- Establish training to increase personnel competency
Generally, the fire department should, as much as possible, advise personnel through the appropriate means of the apparent hazards being faced, any relevant symptoms, appropriate emergency treatment and the proper conditions and precautions of safe use or exposure. In addition, it is necessary to monitor and measure various health hazards, keep available any and all appropriate records including those of inspections, investigations of serious illness and accidents, exposures of employees to potentially toxic materials or harmful materials and similar type items.
Some states, however, are governed by OSHA and fire departments in those states must comply with legislation. An Eastern U.S. city was fined for violation of a State Occupational Safety and Health law when it did not inform firefighters about hazardous materials being stored in a processing plant. The plant caught fire with numerous firefighters requiring medical attention. The citation particularly noted a failure to provide information o the hazardous materials, failure to provide adequate training, and failure to require the use of self-contained breathing apparatus in the presence of hazardous materials. As you can see; YES, the fire department can be cited.
WHAT CAN OSHA DO
An employee, at any time, can request an OSHA inspection with a response being imminent. The appropriate representative has the authorization to enter and question, inspect, investigate, etc. as necessary to determine compliance with the appropriate legislation. Subsequent to that inspection, you are notified of any citations for failure to comply and will be given a defined period to contest that notification. If you fail to contest them, they are no longer subject to review by any entity and judicial reviews applicable to you, the fire department, as an employer is undertaken.