Annual Respirator Fit Testing Enforcement Has Resumed

For several years, the annual appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Labor and its agencies contained a rider named the Wicker Amendment that barred OSHA from enforcing the requirement in its regulations for annual respirator fit testing for occupational exposure to tuberculosis. The ban's practical effect was to free health care employers of the need to provide respirators and to fit test employees who may be exposed to TB on the job. The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee rejected the amendment in this year's appropriation bill, but until the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) announced April 11 that is has resumed enforcement of the fit test requirement, there had been no announcement that enforcement had resumed. MIOSHA's announcement answered the question; it says that the MIOSHA action "follows the lead of federal OSHA with the removal of the Wicker Amendment from the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act by the U.S. Congress."

The Wicker Amendment (named for Mississippian Roger Wicker, who offered it while in the House but now is a U.S. senator, having been sworn in Jan. 22, 2008, to replace retiring Sen. Trent Lott) was an appropriations rider that prohibited OSHA, and OSHA-funded state programs, from spending appropriated funds to administer or enforce provisions that require annual fit testing (after the initial fit test) of respirators used for TB protection. Now, employers who are covered under the MIOSHA TB requirements must comply with all requirements in MIOSHA Part 451, Respiratory Protection. MIOSHA said it "will continue to extend to workers exposed to TB the same high level of respiratory protection provided to workers throughout Michigan, by enforcing all requirements of the respiratory protection standard including respiratory protection training, fit testing, and medical evaluation."

Employees' exposures to TB also are addressed by MIOSHA Instruction No. GISHD-COM-05-2R-2, Enforcement Policy and Procedures for Evaluating Occupational Exposure to Tuberculosis, which is based on the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's 2006 "Guidelines for Preventing the Transmission of Tuberculosis in Health-Care Facilities" and identifies health care facilities, long-term care facilities for the elderly, homeless shelters, drug treatment centers, and correctional facilities as posing a high risk of TB exposure. Control methods required under the instruction include early identification of patients/clients; respiratory protection; medical surveillance; case management of infected employees; work practices and engineering controls; and employee education and training. MIOSHA also said its Consultation Education and Training Division (phone 517-322-1831) is beginning an outreach effort to provide training and information to affected employers in Michigan.

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