What OSHA Changes to Fire Brigade Standard (29 CFR 1910.156) Means to the Waste and Recycling Industry

January 16, 2024

By Ryan Fogelman, J.D., MBA

Most of us know the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plays a pivotal role in ensuring workplace safety and health standards across various industries in the U.S. One of the key regulations under OSHA’s purview is 29 CFR 1910.156, which addresses specific aspects of fire brigade operations. When this was released, I was contacted by several of my waste and recycling industry colleagues, asking if I understood what the 600-page document was attempting to achieve.

I reached out to one of my colleagues, fire engineer James “Andy” Lynch, and asked him if he was up to the challenge of reading the document and providing his opinion. Together, we used our expertise to share our thoughts around how this updated standard will affect the waste and recycling industry. Below, we highlight some of our feedback and insights on the proposed changes to this regulation.

Keeping in mind that this is the standard’s first significant revision since September 1980, OSHA has started off with a major change in wording: switching from “Fire Brigade” to “Emergency Response.” This is significant because OSHA is clearly expanding the definition to include more than just responding to fire hazards; it also is how an organization plans for and responds to any onsite emergency.

The rest of the changes are really meant to bring this 40-plus-year-old standard in line with existing standards and incorporate several already practiced and accepted procedures including National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes and standards. For those of you with a fire background or insurance companies requiring their operators to comply with the NFPA standards, the updated standard will reference part or all of the 36-plus NFPA Standards.  

The process to change this document started in 2007 and expands on who it applies to and the hazards the emergency response personnel will face. The standard addresses two major segments of emergency response: the Emergency Service Organizations and the Workplace Emergency Response Employers (WERE). In the waste and recycling industry, we are typically only dealing with the WERE segment.

At the core, OSHA seemed to be developing a WERE whose responsibility was to reduce team member injuries and/or fatalities. Its primary means to achieve this intended purpose is to require WEREs to develop and implement an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that encompasses the rule’s requirements. The ERP will assist WEREs in ensuring emergency preparedness and compliance with the rules that supervisors and employees can readily share with their teams during training. This will promote a clear understanding and knowledge of the WERE’s emergency procedures and better prepare the workplace for emergency incidents. 

Keeping OSHA’s primary goal to reduce fatal and non-fatal injuries to fire emergency professionals and employees in mind, there are a ton of changes. Doing a deep dive into this article is an impossible task, but we feel there are a few main areas that the waste and recycling industry needs to consider and proactively choose a path:

  • The standard will necessitate a vulnerability assessment that identifies structure, process areas and other locations where a Pre-Incident Plan (PIP) is needed. PIPs provide critical information to team members to guide their response to an emergency incident. PIPs typically include maps of the facility, diagrams and drawings and the designation of predetermined locations for emergency vehicle positioning during an incident. An accurate, up-to-date PIP is a valuable tool for assisting team members with safe and effective mitigation of incidents and will be a critical component of preparedness going forward.
  • The standard updates what resources are needed, including personnel and equipment, with sections highlighting facility preparedness and equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) information. PPE is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical or other workplace hazards. Having the proper PPE and maintenance for WEREs is critical for industry operators who would like their employees to fight fire hazards on the frontlines. Even if there is a good reason for the lack of resources to respond to fire and emergency incidents quickly, in our opinion, these requirements will apply to ALL employees
  • The site will need to define the types and levels of emergency response it will provide. For example, a type of emergency response may include firefighting, EMS or technical rescue, while a level would include rope, vehicle, structure collapse or trench rescue for technical rescue.  Industry operators will need to define the types of training and equipment they will provide. For example, firefighting can be highlighted and trained for without opening up the requirement to provide emergency services or other hazards. 
  • The standard will compel WERE to establish and implement a process to involve team members and responders in developing and updating the ERP, in implementing and evaluating the ERP and in the review and change process.
  • The standard will require the WERE to establish and implement a process to involve team members and responders in walkaround inspections conducted by the WERE, inspections conducted in response to health and safety concern(s) raised and perform incident investigations and documentation at the WERE’s facility(s).
  • OSHA recognizes there are extraordinary instances where a team member or responder would need to deviate from the ordinary procedures set out in the risk management plan to rescue a person in imminent peril. To accommodate these situations, the standard would require the WERE to include in the risk management plan a policy for extraordinary situations when a team member or responder, after making a risk assessment determination based on the team member or responder’s training and experience, is permitted to attempt to rescue a person in imminent peril, potentially without the benefit of PPE, tools, equipment, etc.
  • The standard updates medical and physical requirements and provides additional guidance to the site on maintaining medical records and establishing a medical evaluation program and fitness program for employees who make up their WERE. This is important because ALL employees cannot be trained unless they are determined by the operator that the employee is physically healthy to handle the task they are being asked to perform.
  • The standard updates the minimum training requirements for team members and responders so that WEREs establish the minimum knowledge and skills required for each team member and responder to safely participate in emergency operations, based on the type and level of service(s) and tiers of team members and responders. These minimum requirements will vary based on the type of emergency response being performed. For example, firefighters will have different training requirements than technical rescuers.

The biggest question I have been asked is how this standard is going to affect the requirements of deploying an “informal fire brigade” versus evacuating and waiting for local fire professionals to arrive on the scene.

To that, Lynch says, “We will not know the full effects on the incipient fire brigade requirements until we see OSHA’s enforcement efforts, or it releases follow-up documentation. But it is clear OSHA is focusing on making WEREs more accountable to specific requirements that might not have been defined well in the past.”

So, now that we have a high-level idea of what changes are coming down the pike, how long do you have to comply? Compliance with the new regulation begins on the effective date of the final rule, which is 60 days after publication.

However, certain provisions will have extended compliance dates. Nothing in the proposed rule would require an employer to establish a Workplace Emergency Response Team. Each employer can decide for themselves, based on a risk assessment of its facility about how local emergency response services are provided to its operation.

OSHA claims that while developing the updated changes to the standard, it has attempted to address significant risks with technically and economically feasible solutions by conducting assessments to determine the feasibility of implementing many of the proposed changes. However, it also is soliciting input into numerous topics, so it pays for the industry associations to get their feedback.  


There are several substantial changes coming to the OSHA emergency response standard. It would be appropriate to examine your current program and identify gaps in compliance so they can be addressed in a timely manner. Clearly, the bar has been raised for our industry organizations to have a WERE, and I am sure this will come into play in any fire brigades, formal or informal, going forward.

So, in a nutshell, it is clear to me that in the future, any waste and recycling employee who fights a fire needs to be formally trained, able-bodied and follow a documented plan, or they will face OSHA’s wrath from a punishment perspective. I used to be able to tell operators that having an employee put water on a fire from a safe distance was a no-brainer. However, going forward, that might not be enough without action by a cleared, trained, properly suited employee, clearly spelled out in a PIP.

Annual Reported Waste & Recycling Facility Fires Report

The work on my “7th Annual Reported Waste & Recycling Facility Fires Report,” which started in December, is slowly moving forward. This year’s report will include the Fire Rover performance scorecard highlighting the number of fires/hot spots responded to, the number of pressurizations of our systems, the number of times we suppressed fires and the number of dispatches to the fire professionals/fire brigade. 

It also will include the latest death/injury report, which shows that more than 9% of the 373 fire incidents we incurred in 2023 resulted in an injury or death; a state-by-state (province-by-province) analysis of how your locality is performing from a tonnage and site number perspective; and much more data and information. If you would like to reserve a digital copy of my report upon release, you can enter your information at https://lnkd.in/dgAX9Ze or subscribe to my LinkedIn 🔥 Fire Safety Report 🔥 newsletter at https://lnkd.in/gjwNpSph.

About Ryan Fogelman

Ryan Fogelman, JD/MBA, is vice president of strategic partnerships for Fire Rover. He is focused on bringing innovative safety solutions to market, and two of his solutions have won the distinguished Edison Innovation Award for Industrial Safety and Consumer Products. He has been compiling and publishing the “Reported Waste & Recycling Facility Fires In The US/CAN” since February 2016 and the “Waste & Recycling Facility Fires Annual Report.” Fogelman regularly speaks on the topic of the scope of fire problems facing the waste and recycling industries, early detection solutions, proper fire planning and early-stage fire risk mitigation. Additionally, Fogelman is on the National Fire Protection Association’s Technical Committee for Hazard Materials. (Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanjayfogelman or email at rfogelman@firerover.com)

About James “Andy” Lynch

James “Andy” Lynch, MSc, is CEO of Fire Solutions Group (FSG). For more than 25 years, Lynch has amassed extensive experience in fire protection engineering, code consulting, fire research and product development. Lynch has extensive fire testing experience, having conducted numerous test series for litigation purposes, the military and commercial products. Lynch has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a M.E. in Fire Protection Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He is a member of the Salamander Honorary Fire Protection Engineering Society, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Society of Fire Protection Engineers, National Fire Sprinkler Association and International Association for Fire Safety Science. Lynch also serves as a member of NFPA’s Fire Testing Committee and on the New NFPA 715 Standard for the Installation of Fuel Gases Detection and Warning Equipment. (Connect with Andy on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesalynch or email at jlynch@FireSolutionsGroup.com)

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