DHS Denies OSHA Power to Invoke Emergency Response Plan, Official Says

Feb. 14, 2008
Calls to elevate the status of a worker safety and health annex in the National Response Framework (NRF) so OSHA could immediately respond to an emergency fell on deaf ears, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided the agency must continue to wait for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) request to implement the annex.

According to a transcript of remarks made during the Jan. 24 National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) meeting sent to OccupationalHazards.com, Ruth McCully, OSHA director of science, technology and medicine, stated that the worker safety and health document was designated as a support annex in the finalized NRF, and not granted emergency support function status as requested by OSHA.

As a successor to the National Response Plan released in 2005, NRF focuses on response and short-term recovery and facilitates all-hazard preparedness from local communities to all levels of government. It contains 23 annexes, including 15 emergency support function and eight support annexes. The worker safety and health annex provides guidelines for worker safety and health functions during national incidents, including acts of terrorism, major natural disasters or man-made emergencies.

Foulke, Howard Support Elevated Annex Status

In recent years, lawmakers questioned whether OSHA has a relevant role in the framework since it lacks the authority to independently implement the support annex. At a hearing in September 2007, NIOSH Director John Howard told the House Homeland Security Committee he wanted to see the worker safety and health support annex elevated to a higher priority to put it on par with “victim safety and health and rescue.”

McCully, in her remarks, stated that OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. also presented a proposal to elevate the status of the annex to the Domestic Readiness Group, an interagency emergency response oversight group coordinated by the White House.

She added that OSHA’s role within the worker safety and health support annex has not substantially changed since the 2005 National Response Plan. OSHA is tasked to start implementing activities specified in the annex within two hours of FEMA’s request.

A call made to DHS for comment was not returned.

The worker safety and health annex supports the following activities:

  • Assessing needs and risk through response and recovery worker site monitoring;
  • Identifying sources for response-and-recovery worker safety and health needs;
  • Providing expert technical assistance, including industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health, engineering and occupational medicine;
  • Implementing and coordinating health and safety plans of various responders to ensure worker protection through consistency and uniformity;
  • Managing, monitoring and providing exposure monitoring for chemical, biological and physical stressors;
  • Managing, monitoring and/or providing technical assistance for an incident personal protective equipment program;
  • Providing support and technical assistance for response and recovery worker exposure and injury and illness data;
  • Communicating information and coordinate training for response and recovery workers; and
  • Providing technical assistance and support to maintain response and recovery worker psychological resiliency.

For more information on NRF, read DHS Releases National Response Framework.

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