November 27, 2019

OSHA Rules on Emergency Response, Workplace Violence Remain Stalled

OSHA rulemaking activities related to emergency response and workplace violence remain in the pre-rule stage on the agency’s fall 2019 regulatory agenda, which was released in earlier this month.

OSHA previously acknowledged that current agency standards do not address the full range of hazards or concerns currently faced by emergency responders and do not reflect “major changes” in performance specifications for protective clothing and equipment. According to the latest regulatory agenda, the agency is still considering updating these standards. The next step in the federal rulemaking process, convening a panel to consider an emergency response standard’s potential impact on small businesses, was originally scheduled to take place in October 2018. The previous regulatory agenda pushed that step back to May 2019, while the new agenda states that a panel will be convened in August 2020.

The projected date for convening a small-business panel on an OSHA standard focused on the prevention of workplace violence in healthcare and social assistance has been delayed again until January 2020. OSHA first published an RFI in December 2016 to gather information on workplace violence and prevention strategies from healthcare employers, workers, and other subject matter experts. A broad coalition of labor unions and National Nurses United, the largest organization of registered nurses in the U.S., separately petitioned OSHA for a standard to prevent workplace violence in healthcare. OSHA granted the petitions in January 2017.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, or H.R. 1309. The bill would require the Department of Labor to promulgate an occupational safety and health standard to require certain employers in the healthcare and social service industries to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan. H.R. 1309 is now headed to the Senate, where its fate is less certain. The bill also faces the threat of veto from the White House. On Nov. 19, the Trump administration issued a statement of administration policy (PDF) indicating that the president’s advisors would recommend that he veto the bill if H.R. 1309 were presented to him in its current form.

Rulemaking activities in the proposed rule stage include rules on walking-working surfaces, communication tower safety, and updates to OSHA’s hazard communication standard. A notice of proposed rulemaking regarding walking-working surfaces, which is intended to clarify requirements for stair rail systems, is scheduled to be published in April 2020. Another NPRM scheduled for September 2020 will focus on effective work practices to address health and safety concerns in the communication tower industry. In January, OSHA intends to publish an NPRM to harmonize its hazard communication standard to the latest edition of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The NPRM will also codify enforcement policies that have been issued since the 2012 standard.

For more information, view the fall 2019 agency rule list for the Department of Labor.