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Firefighters Union Rebukes OSHA's Anti-terrorism Effort

The nation's firefighters are at risk in the event of a terrorist attack because OSHA has done nothing to require employers to provide, or workers to wear, respirators and protective clothing.

That was the blunt assessment delivered today by Richard Duffy, a representative of the International Association of Firefighters. Duffy addressed his remarks to OSHA Administrator John Henshaw during the first day of this year's first meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH).

"It's incredible to me: we have zero air-purifying respirators out there available for workers if a terrorist attack happens today or in the foreseeable future," Duffy asserted. "Likewise for protective clothing – no one has this in the field because no one's buying it, and no one's buying because there are no regulatory requirements or even advisory information from the agencies on how to protect workers on this issue."

Duffy also attacked the silence of OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) with respect to the effort to inoculate first responders against smallpox. "It's incredible that nothing has been said by either agency on this major national occupational safety and health issue."

After Duffy finished, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw and NIOSH Director John Howard responded to the alleged failure of their agencies to protect the nation's first responders. However, neither one offered any specific steps being contemplated by OSHA or NIOSH to protect firefighters from the various chemical, biological, and nuclear hazards that could be unleashed by a terrorist attack.

"It's an issue we have to address," replied Henshaw. "It is high on our radar screen."

Howard said he hoped the NACOSH meeting would help NIOSH to find ways to respond to the problem.

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