OSHA, FEMA Sponsor Summit Focusing on PPE Safety Issues for Federal Employees

The federal agencies charged with protecting workers and building and supporting the nation's emergency management system held a daylong summit on Dec. 17 to address issues affecting federal workers responsible for responding to incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.

The meeting, co-sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), focused primarily on personal protective equipment-related issues for federal workers involved in emergency responses resulting from terrorist acts or weapons of mass destruction.

"Each of the organizations that responded to the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, brought with them their best efforts," said OSHA Administrator John Henhaw. "But we all found critical areas that needed improvement, including improved personal protective equipment (PPE)technology training and ready access to PPE equipment, to name a few. This summit helped clarify some policy and technical issues related to PPE and helped us move toward a greater level of preparedness for the future."

Henshaw also said the objectives and outcome of the summit were tied to OSHA's Homeland Security role in providing safety and health preparedness assistance and guidance in concert with other federal agencies.

Three panels of representatives from federal and state agencies and associations discussed various PPE-related issues including certification of respiratory protection, interoperability of respiratory protection equipment, training and fit-testing requirements, and guidance for PPE selection. Briefings and follow-on discussions also focused on certification procedures and standards to address the range of PPE necessary for different levels of government responders.

One particular issue discussed centered on whether individual agencies should continue to be responsible for the selection and use of PPE by their own employees, or move to a coordinated effort through a single federal agency. Other topics included recent advances in PPE development, and availability of PPE training models that could be standardized and provided to government personnel.

In addition to OSHA and FEMA, other agencies scheduled to attend the summit were the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Navy Environmental Health Center, the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Fire Protection Association, Science Applications International Corporation, the National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety and Health Training and the Rhode Island State Emergency Management Agency.

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