Regulations and Standards
Today, in the United States, numerous regulations and standards have been developed and implemented by relevant bodies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to guide and streamline emergency services.
The most notable difference between regulations and standards is that while regulations carry the weight of law and are compulsory in their requirements and scope based on federal, state or local legislation, standards are merely consensus documents that are developed when a group of professionals with unique skills and expertise come together and agree on how a specific activity should be carried out, hence do not mandate compliance (Angle 21).
Consequently, therefore, it is correct to state that the requirements found in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which is the OSHA regulations, are mandatory in law while many of the NFPA standards (e.g., NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program) are not mandatory in law but include mandatory provisions of the requirements as set out by the group of professionals (Angle 21).
Further explanation is needed to distinguish the two terms. While it is obvious that regulations (e.g., OSHA 1910.120, Hazardous Waste Operations; OSHA 1910.134, Personal Protective Equipment and Respiratory Protection) are developed and prescribed at the government level, and in some cases, through state and local legislation (Harper 13), standards can also be adopted by various government agencies with the view to enforcing them to impact various safety and health programs (Angle 22).
For example, NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code) and NFPA 1500 (Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program) have been adopted and enforced by various government agencies across the United States through the NFPA itself has no enforcement authority or power as its standards are only considered advisory.
It should be noted that when a state or local jurisdiction adopts an NFPA standard (e.g., NFPA 1521, Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer; NFPA 1561, Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System under the NFPA 1500 series), the adopting agency would have the legal rights to enforce the standard (Angle 21).
This implies that even though standards are developed by a consensus of professionals, hence are not mandatory and do not carry the weight of law (Harper 13), they can still be adopted into law by local or state legislation (Angle 22)
The Concept of Standard of Care
Extant literature demonstrates that the concept of standard of care is well known in emergency services domain, and concerns following laid out procedures and expectations when it comes to performance. The general paradigm guiding the concept of standard of care is that to avoid liability, professional emergency responders “must perform in the same way as another reasonable person with the same training and equipment would perform” (Angle 22).
This implies that a practitioner may be liable for prosecution for not following reasonable industry standards as described in the NFPA document. It is important to note that standards of care are not static; rather, they are dynamic and shift with time and technological advancements. Hence employers and emergency responders should be on the lookout for new standards of care to avoid liability.
Even though standards do not carry the weight of law and may not be mandatory in their requirements based on federal, state or local legislation, practitioners who intentionally disregard a clear duty or a definite rule of conduct grounded on a standard of care may find themselves liable for prosecution not only because of the fact that they are expected to perform at a certain level but also due to the consideration of failure to use any care and an indifference to the consequences of their actions.
For example, NFPA 1500 (Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program) obliges all emergency responders to be dangerous and hazardous environmental situations to have in their possession a personal alert safety system (PASS). As such, the management of emergency services in a fire department may find itself liable in law for the death of an emergency firefighter who entered a burning building without a PASS even in the absence of state or local legislation sanctioning the NFPA 1500 as mandatory.
The available literature is conclusive on the fact that standards (including recommended practices and codes) tend to become a standard of care when experts in a particular core area bound by “related interests and expertise come together and agree on some minimum level of performance” (Angle 22).
For example, NFPA 1521 (Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer) requires that the incident safety officer responding to an emergency fire situation be a highly trained and qualified professional of the command staff, and that he or she should work directly with the incident commander to contain the situation (Angle 26).
Conceivably, therefore, the incident commander or the health and safety officer may be liable for prosecution if he or she utilizes the services of unqualified emergency responders to contain the fire situation. In the same vein, a manufacturer of a beauty product may be held liable under the standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requiring producers of such products to assure the safety and health of consumers, along with the protection of the environment.
Angle, James. Occupational Safety and Health in the Emergency Services, Stamford, Connecticut: Thomson Learning, 2005. Print.
Harper, Earnest. “A Perspective on Regulations and Standards for Safety Professionals.” Professional Safety. 53.8 (2008): 13-14. Academic Search Premier. Web.