By F.I.E.R.O. Staff
Published Saturday, August 18, 2012
The fire service is all about risks: The public mantra (and our mantra) is that we risk our lives to save others. We respond to emergencies where our customers have taken an intended or unintended risk—and lost. We talk about risk management and risk assessments, and we justify our line-of-duty injuries and deaths by saying, “It’s a risky business.”
The fire service routinely takes other risks that are not as glamorous as our “on the street” risks. These are the legal risks we take by failing to develop, implement, maintain and document a PPE program. Well-known products liability attorney Jim Juneau, who is legal counsel to the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association (FAMA) and the Fire Equipment Manufacturers and Services Association (FEMSA), warns fire departments not to ignore these legal risks.
Most fire departments do not realize that OSHA has quite a few requirements for PPE. For example, CFR 1910.132 states, “Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.”
It goes on to cover PPE issues such as hazard assessment and selection, communication of the selection to employees, fit, documentation, damaged PPE, training, donning/doffing, limitations, retirement, care and maintenance.
Also, NFPA 1500: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program dedicates an entire chapter with 19 sections to the use of PPE. It is striking how many departments fall completely or partially short in complying with this chapter. A common excuse for failure to comply is that that NFPA standards are voluntary and up to the authority having jurisdiction. However, Juneau is quick to point out that in a court of law, NFPA standards rule.
To gain an understanding of the laws and regulations governing PPE, be sure to attend the 2013 F.I.E.R.O. Fire PPE Symposium, where Attorney Juneau will be the keynote speaker. The Symposium will be March 4–6, 2013, at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel in Raleigh, N.C. A highlight of the symposium will be a tour of the Textile Protection and Comfort Center (T-PACC) at North Carolina State University. Details and online registration are available at www.fireppesymposium.com.
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