In August, INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, rolled out its newly redesigned ListServ addressing nonwovens industry policy issues within a Government Affairs Forums Community. Not long afterwards, several posts were made asking for information regarding recent governmental activities impacting those who use and make personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators, masks, and protective apparel.
INDA government affairs staff responded to these posts by describing several recent developments in ongoing federal activities related to PPE. But in recognition of the fact that the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Avian flu scare, Hurricane Katrina and other catastrophes have elevated the importance of PPE in the minds of policymakers, we decided a more detailed review of recent activities was in order. As such, this article will update readers on activities being pursued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that stand to impact personal protective equipment.
With the vast majority of PPE being used in workplace settings, it is not surprising that OSHA has taken the lead in many of the recent regulatory efforts addressing these products.
In mid-May, for example, OSHA announced it was proposing to update PPE requirements in its existing standards for general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring, and marine terminals employment. The move is part of a long-term effort to update or revoke references to specific consensus and industry standards and seeks to replace references to out-of-date consensus standards with performance language that requires PPE to be constructed in accordance with good design standards. It also includes appendices that may be used to identify good design standards.
In explaining the rationale for this proposal, the Agency noted that it has updated PPE standards by incorporating more recent versions of standards adopted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). But the agency further explained that it does not have the resources to propose and finalize standards as frequently as ANSI does, meaning that OSHA standards are often out of date. A performance-oriented approach would address this problem.
But the OSHA proposal has drawn criticism from some industry groups and representatives from organized labor who contend that the changes would reduce worker protections and cause confusion among employers. In response to those concerns, the agency announced August 31 that it will hold an informal public hearing on the matter December 4 in Washington, DC to give interested parties the chance to provide direct input on the changes.
In a separate development that has the potential to impact existing regulations governing PPE, OSHA announced September 11 that it is seeking public input as to whether current health and safety standards for emergency responders should be updated.
Although safety practices for emergency responders are currently covered by separate standards addressing hazardous waste operations, PPE, respiratory protection and the like, these standards are out of date, according to OSHA, and do not reflect the threats currently facing the nation's emergency responders. These particular standards also fail to reflect major changes in performance specifications for protective clothing and equipment according to OSHA.
Although the agency's request for input is broad, OSHA specifically asks for public comment on whether PPE standards need to be strengthened and expanded to include emergency scenarios not previously envisioned. It also asks interested parties to comment on whether new national consensus standards need to be developed.
OSHA plans to accept public comments until December 10 and will consider whether to take further steps to revise the emergency responder standards based on the input it receives.
NIOSH and IOM
NIOSH has also been busy at work on PPE through its National Personal Protective Technology (NPPT) program. Indeed, since it was first created in 2001, the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) in Pittsburgh, PA has been involved in a wide range of activities including surveying, testing and auditing a variety of PPE. It is currently working to develop test methods and standards for a variety of different kinds of respirators including powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR) and those that protect against Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) agent inhalation hazards.
As part of a larger effort to evaluate several NIOSH research programs, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) held a public meeting in Washington, DC on September 28 to look at the effectiveness of the NPPTL's work. During the meeting, NIOSH staff was expected to deliver a briefing on the personal protective technology program. IOM plans to hold a follow-up meeting in December to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide input.
Separately, the IOM also recently announced plans to hold a public meeting in Washington, DC on October 9 to discuss the findings of its report, Preparing for an Influenza Pandemic: Personal Protective Equipment for Healthcare Workers, released on September 18.
As the name suggests, that report studied the role of PPE that would be used by frontline healthcare workers during a widespread influenza crisis. Among other things, the report finds that there is an urgent need to address the lack of preparedness regarding effective PPE for use in this type of outbreak. The report specifically recommends that the government focus research and policy efforts on gaining a better understanding of influenza transmission; the appropriate use of PPE and innovating and strengthening PPE design, testing and certification.
Although this article is by no means a comprehensive overview of all federal efforts impacting PPE—we did not even touch upon work being done by agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and many more—we do hope that it has given readers who were interested in learning more about government activities surrounding PPE a bit to chew on.