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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is planning to initiate a small business advocacy review panel for a potential emergency response standard outlining procedures to respond to natural catastrophes such as fires and hurricanes and incidents such as explosions at chemical plant facilities within 60 days.
The agency informed the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget on Feb. 7 that it plans to initiate a Small Business Advocacy Review panel, commonly known as a SBREFA panel, on emergency response under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, according to an email from a SBA spokesperson.
An April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. in West, Texas that killed 12 emergency responders and three civilians and injured more than 260 others led to then-President Barack Obama’s executive order directing agencies such as OSHA to strengthen their preparation and response to chemical safety incidents.
In response, OSHA tasked the National Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health's subcommittee for emergency response and preparedness with exploring a potential regulation in September 2015. In December 2016, NACOSH recommended that OSHA pursue an emergency responder preparedness program standard and submitted a draft rule for OSHA consideration that would require emergency service organizations to write and implement a comprehensive risk management plan covering risks associated with administration, facilities, training, vehicle operations, protective clothing and equipment, emergency and nonemergency incidents and related activities.
The rule-making effort stalled under the Trump administration, but was unexpectedly added back to the agency’s agenda under the prerule stage, meaning the agency is considering taking action, in May 2018. A mandatory government review of the impact of proposed regulations from agencies such as OSHA on small businesses is an indicator that a rule is moving forward, according to experts.
OSHA’s possible rulemaking would replace OSHA’s existing fire brigade standard with a new comprehensive standard for entities that perform emergency response activities and are not covered by an existing OSHA standard such as the agency’s process safety management, hazardous waste operations and emergency response or confined space standards, according to SBA’s email. However, if these entities perform emergency response activities beyond the fire brigade standard, they could be brought under the new comprehensive standard, according to the agency.
The SBREFA review will examine questions such as is the draft regulatory text clear and understandable, are the regulatory provisions necessary to protect workers, are there any economic or technological challenges that would be particularly challenging to small businesses and entities and are there regulatory alternatives that can reduce the burden.
A deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant highlights the importance of identifying, addressing and communicating such facilities' unique hazards, particularly since many are in or near population centers.