2-In-2-Out and Respiratory Protection

(from Maine Townsman, June 1998)
by Linda Lockhart, MMA SFR Staff

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a revised standard for respiratory protection. Basically, the 285-page OSHA standard requires physical fitness examinations, fit testing, and annual training for employees who wear respirators and establishes staffing requirements for interior structural fire fighting. The "2-in-2-out" standard would require that any firefighter entering a building be accompanied by another firefighter, maintaining visual contact at all times, and that for two firefighters entering a structure, two similarly equipped and ready firefighters must remain outside to replace or rescue the two on the inside. Of particular concern to municipalities is the unnecessarily high level of increased costs that may be driven by Maine’s adoption of the OSHA standards without exploration of alternatives. Employees of wastewater treatment plants, because they also wear respirators, are an example of an additional group of public employees that would be impacted by adoption of the standard.

Cities and towns are not required by federal law to comply with OSHA standards because regulation of municipal government workplace health and safety is exclusively a state and local responsibility. States may adopt their own programs, as long as the state programs are as "effective" as the federal programs. However, Maine’s Department of Labor proposes to adopt the OSHA standards, without alteration. Without exploring alternatives, we can never know what could be accomplished in terms of creating programs that are equally protective of Maine’s firefighters and wastewater treatment plant operators, but less expensive and cumbersome than the OSHA program.

There would be unnecessarily high costs associated with adoption of a new state rule incorporating federal OSHA standards. These costs would have to compete for limited local budget dollars with other important local priorities. MMA conducted a survey of a representative group of 23 fire chiefs concerning the costs to provide physicals required for the respiratory standard and estimates of the fiscal impact of the 2-in-2-out rule. Statewide costs were estimated based on percentage of population responding to the survey. The estimated annual cost of physicals was $1.5 million and other fiscal impacts were reported to be $7 million, for a total annual impact of $8.5 million. Approximately 2.4 percent of the total was identified as being for one-time-only, or infrequent impacts. Since releasing the report, many chiefs have told us that they believe the estimates to be extremely conservative. The additional costs to the wastewater treatment community were not explored in the survey, but the cost of physicals is expected to have the greatest impact for them.

MMA has identified the proposed rule as a state mandate and asked that the state:

• Use the authorized power of state action to adopt clear, equally effective, and less costly programs and rules. Build into the programs regional approaches to provision of physical exams, fit testing, and equipment purchase that will minimize costs by developing economies of scale that cannot exist within individual municipalities.

• Provide state funding to mitigate compliance costs and to support the regional programs.

In response to the concerns of the firefighting community voiced at public hearings, the State OSHA Board will convene an Ad Hoc Advisory Group this summer to provide recommendations for standards to protect firefighters, meet legal requirements, and be tailored to Maine’s needs as far as possible. According to David Wacker of the Maine Department of Labor, the concerns of wastewater treatment plant operators will be addressed in separate efforts.