Final Rule Set for Fire Protection for Shipyard Workers

September 14, 2004

Shipyard workers will now be afforded the same level of protection against fire hazards as employees in other industries as a result of a new rule announced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Fire Protection in Shipyard Employment final rule, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register, was developed through the negotiated rulemaking process and will reportedly provide increased protection from fire hazards for nearly 100,000 workers in the shipbuilding, ship repair and ship breaking industries.

“Through the negotiated rulemaking process, stakeholders from all aspects of the industry provided excellent guidance to address safety and health risks associated with shipyard fire hazards,” OSHA Administrator John Henshaw said. “Those risks, and the hazards involved with firefighting activities at shipyards, are considerably different from other industries and we believe the requirements outlined in this standard will help save lives and prevent injuries in the industry.”

The final rule incorporates 19 consensus standards from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and includes relevant information from other sources, including OSHA’s general industry standard on fire protection, as well as procedures from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard.

The standard requires a written fire watch policy and also discontinues the practice of allowing workers who perform hot work such as welding, cutting, or grinding to act as their own fire watch. The rule also affords employers flexibility by allowing them to rely on a combination of fire response organizations (e.g., internal, external, or both) rather than requiring them to establish internal fire brigades.

Other specific issues detailed in the final rule include training, multi-employer worksites, hot work precautions, hazards of fixed extinguishing systems onboard vessels and vessel sections, and land-side fire protection systems. The rule includes a model fire safety plan that employers can use to develop their site-specific plans. A key part of any safety plan includes discussions of employee evacuation procedures.

The new standard will impact approximately 700 employers, and covers all fire response provided by the employers’ workers, whether part of a fire brigade, shipyard fire department, or designated by the employer.

OSHA is also requiring the 26 states and territories with their own OSHA-approved state plans to revise their standards regulating means of egress, emergency action plans, and fire prevention plans that resulted from this rulemaking.

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