Navigating OSHA’s Proposed Emergency Response Rule: Financial Challenges for Local Governments & Their Fire Departments


  • Yucel Ors
April 9, 2024 - (5 min read)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) unveiled a proposed rule to modernize protections for emergency response workers, who often face substantial occupational hazards. This long-developed proposal, officially published in the Federal Register on February 5, 2024, seeks to replace the outdated Fire Brigades standard (29 CFR 1910.156), which has seen minimal updates since its inception in 1980. With the comment period extended until June 21, 2024, stakeholders have a vital opportunity to weigh in on this significant development. Interested parties can submit their feedback through the dedicated docket, with additional insights on participation available here.

Background and Development Process

Recognizing the inadequacies of existing standards in addressing the diverse hazards encountered by emergency responders, OSHA’s proposed rule is a critical step toward ensuring comprehensive workplace protections. The initiative aims to expand the scope of covered workers to include those providing emergency medical services and technical search and rescue. This move reflects OSHA’s commitment to safeguarding emergency responders against the evolving challenges of their work environments.

The journey towards this proposed rule has been marked by extensive collaboration and expert input. Beginning in 2015, a NACOSH Subcommittee, comprising experts from various sectors, initiated the development of a draft standard aligned with NFPA consensus benchmarks. Following rigorous deliberations and consultations, the proposed rule was finally published in February 2024. Throughout this process, stakeholders from emergency response organizations, labor unions, industry, national associations, and government entities have contributed their expertise to ensure the proposed standard effectively addresses the needs of emergency responders.

Key Concerns and Implications

Recent discussions surrounding the proposed Emergency Response Standard have shed light on significant financial challenges facing local fire departments. An online seminar hosted by the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York (AFDSNY) and a presentation by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and OSHA have underscored key concerns that demand attention.

  1. Training and Certification Requirements
    There’s apprehension about potential increases in training and certification requirements for firefighters and officers. Under the proposed standard, officers would be mandated to obtain Fire Officer certifications corresponding to their ranks, potentially escalating spending on training programs. Additionally, specialized training for hazards like HazMat and vehicle operations may become necessary, further straining fire department budgets.
  2. Documentation and Administrative Burden
    Compliance with the proposed standard could lead to additional administrative tasks and documentation requirements. Fire departments may need to allocate resources for managing documentation related to training records, equipment maintenance, and safety regulations compliance. One online seminar highlighted that the estimated annual hours required for documentation could significantly impact operational efficiency, potentially costing up to $4,800 per year.
  3. Equipment Upgrades and Maintenance
    Ensuring compliance may necessitate investment in new equipment or upgrades to existing gear. Fire departments may need to budget for the purchase, maintenance, and replacement of firefighting apparatus, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and communication systems. The requirement to ensure existing PPE complies with updated standards adds complexity to equipment management and budget planning.
  4. Infrastructure and Facility Upgrades
    Compliance with the proposed standard could require infrastructure upgrades or modifications to fire department facilities. Renovations may be necessary to accommodate training facilities, control zones, decontamination areas, and storage requirements. Local governments may need to allocate funds for capital expenditure to address these infrastructure needs, further straining limited budgets.
  5. Legal and Compliance Costs
    Addressing liability concerns and ensuring compliance may necessitate legal expertise and consultation. Fire departments may need to budget for legal counsel, compliance audits, and risk management strategies to mitigate potential legal liabilities. Failure to comply with safety regulations could result in reputational damage and costly lawsuits, highlighting the importance of proactive risk management.

Strategies and Request for Feedback

Despite these challenges, fire service organizations have initiated several strategies to address concerns related to the proposed standard. Collaborative efforts involving various associations, including AFDSNY, NYSAFC, and FASNY, have been instrumental in advocating for feasible alternatives and educating stakeholders about the financial impacts of compliance. Aggressive outreach efforts have been initiated with elected officials to raise awareness of concerns and explore collaboration opportunities with OSHA.

The Notice of Proposed Ruling (NPRM) for the Emergency Response Standard seeks stakeholder input on a range of critical aspects. Questions extend to defining workplace emergency terms, involving employee representatives in program development, and ensuring effective risk management plans and infection control measures. Stakeholders are invited to provide insights on developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for workplace violence protection and involving team members and responders in post-incident analysis. Economic impacts and feasibility, particularly for small entities, are also addressed.


Navigating OSHA’s proposed Emergency Response standard presents significant financial challenges for local governments and fire departments. By actively participating in the rulemaking process and addressing the economic and administrative implications, cities can influence the final standard to better align with their needs and mitigate the financial burden of compliance. Balancing the imperative of protecting emergency responders with fiscal responsibility requires collaborative efforts and informed decision-making to safeguard worker safety and economic sustainability.

NLC intends to submit comments to OSHA, outlining our issues with the proposed rules. We’re eager to gather input from local elected officials on their concerns related to these regulations. You are encouraged to share your viewpoints with Yucel Ors, NLC’s Legislative Director for Public Safety, at

About the Author

Yucel Ors

About the Author

Yucel (u-jel) Ors is the Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention at the National League of Cities.