Understanding OSHA's Role in Nuclear Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for the non-radiological health and safety of employees in work areas and their exposure to radiation from radiation sources not regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). OSHA's jurisdiction over nuclear power plants is limited to these areas, and does not cover plant conditions that create occupational hazards but do not affect the safety of authorized materials. In order to protect workers from occupational health and safety risks, OSHA collaborates with the Department of Energy (DOE) and NRC. The two agencies have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that deals with coordination between the DOL and the NRC on the protection of nuclear safety whistleblowers employed by NRC licensees, license applicants, and contractors and subcontractors of NRC licensees and license applicants.

The MOU requires each agency to report to the other on its nuclear safety whistleblower cases, among other things. It also clarifies that NRC covers radiological hazards and any other hazards that may affect radiation safety in the facility; OSHA covers non-radiological hazards. In addition, OSHA has twenty-eight state plans approved by OSHA that operate state occupational safety and health programs. Through the OSH Act, OSHA exercises regulatory authority over workers in the private sector to ensure the safety and health of workers.

This MOU outlines the procedures by which the DOE will notify OSHA regarding the need for agencies to address occupational safety and health regulatory authority in privatized facilities and operations at DOE sites, and outlines procedures and criteria for federal OSHA or state plans accept regulatory responsibilities for occupational safety and health in these facilities and operations. OSHA also recently released a final rule that makes procedures for handling whistleblower retaliation complaints under the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 and six environmental statutes consistent with retaliatory complaint procedures under other OSHA bylaws. provisions for whistleblowers. These agreements describe the regulatory responsibilities of agencies for occupational safety and health and provide for coordination between OSHA and the other agencies. Finally, readers should note that OSHA's ionizing radiation standards have not been substantially revised from the provisions of the original 1971 version of 29 CFR 1910,1096 (which 29 CFR 1926.53, the ionizing radiation standard for construction, incorporates by reference).

However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, other agencies that regulate public and occupational exposure to ionizing radiation, have updated standards based on more recent radiation protection guidelines, such as that of the International Commission on Radiological Protection.