Magazine article Occupational Hazards

In National Emergencies, OSHA to Provide Assistance-Not Enforcement

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

In National Emergencies, OSHA to Provide Assistance-Not Enforcement

Article excerpt

Soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, OSHA announced it would provide technical assistance to recovery workers, but would not enforce its safety and health regulations. OSHA employees worked long hours during the emergency operation, and there were no fatalities at one of the nation's most hazardous sites.

Since 9/11, however, the decision to suspend OSHA's traditional enforcement authority has aroused controversy.

As the work around the old World Trade Center (WTC) proceeded, some workers did not wear proper respiratory protection and were not protected from the toxic atmosphere that was present. "Now literally 6,000 heroic workers who responded in that emergency are seriously ill," according to Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a leading critic of OSHA's handling of safety and health at the former WTC site.

In its new National Emergency Management Plan (NEMP), the agency has clarified that in the future it will not enforce safety rules, but will instead "provide technical assistance during large-scale emergencies," according to an OSHA official. A major part of OSHA's assistance role during the emergency phase of nationally significant incidents "includes the assessment and the management of the risks faced by first responders and recovery workers," the official explained.

The OSHA regional administrator in whose region the incident occurs may seek to regain OSHA's traditional enforcement authority, but this shift must be based on "the incident's unique set of conditions and risks" and only after consultation with the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.

"OSHA's NEMP has some shocking flaws," declared Shufro. "OSHA's role will be limited to providing 'advice and consultation' with the result that standards that are specifically designed for emergencies, such as the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard, will be treated as merely advisory. …

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