(This article is Part 2 of HazMat Training Requirements. To avoid letting confusion about OSHA’s HAZWOPER standard cause non-compliance, we recommend starting with Part 1 for a complete understanding.
We’ve found that most of the confusion surrounding training under the HAZWOPER standard is related to emergency response operations (paragraph q), so we’re diving into those particular requirements in this article.
What’s an emergency response?
First, it’s important to understand that OSHA considers an “emergency response” one that requires effort by employees outside the immediate release area:
“Response effort by employees from outside the immediate release area or by other designated responders (i.e., mutual-aid groups, local fire departments, etc.) to an occurrence which results, or is likely to result, in an uncontrolled release of a hazardous substance.”
Second, it’s important to understand that the HAZWOPER standard does NOT apply to incidental releases (or non-emergency):
“Responses to incidental releases of hazardous substances where the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of release by employees in the immediate release area, or by maintenance personnel are not considered to be emergency responses within the scope of this standard. Responses to releases of hazardous substances where there is no potential safety or health hazard (i.e., fire, explosion, or chemical exposure) are not considered to be emergency responses [29 CFR 1910.120(a)(3)].”
What’s an emergency?
And third, it’s important to understand how OSHA defines “emergency,” which we can infer from a useful letter of interpretation:
“It is not the intent of the Agency to define an emergency condition in terms of an arbitrary quantity of material released due to the diversity of workplace conditions, conditions of chemical use, and types of chemicals used.”
As this statement indicates, OSHA expects employers to individually define what constitutes an emergency at their facility or work location. An employer should consider the risk of exposure, capabilities of employees, available resources, and diversity of workplace conditions when defining emergency.
The letter of interpretation goes on to provide additional guidance in defining an emergency:
“When, as a consequence of a release of a hazardous substance the following conditions, or similar conditions, may develop, such situations would normally be considered emergency situations requiring an emergency response effort:
High concentrations of toxic substances.
Situation that is life or injury threatening.
Imminent Danger to Life and Health (IDLH) environments.
Situation that presents an oxygen deficient atmosphere.
Condition that poses a fire or explosion hazard.
Situation that required an evacuation of the area.
A situation that requires immediate attention because of the danger posed to employees in the area.”
5 Training Levels for Employees Engaged in Emergency Response
To determine which scenario would be considered an emergency, an employer must correctly apply OSHA definitions for both an emergency response and an emergency. Then, if employees are expected to engage in emergency response during an emergency (non-incidental release), they must be trained in one or more of the five levels, which are based on the assigned responsibility of the employee and their expected level of response. Here’s a definition of each:
- First Responder Awareness: “Individuals who are likely to witness or discover a hazardous substance release and who have been trained to initiate an emergency response sequence by notifying the proper authorities of the release. They would take no further action beyond notifying the authorities of the release.”
- First Responder Operations: “Individuals who respond to releases or potential releases of hazardous substances as part of the initial response to the site for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, property, or the environment from the effects of the release. They are trained to respond in a defensive fashion without actually trying to stop the release. Their function is to contain the release from a safe distance, keep it from spreading, and prevent exposures.”
- Hazardous Materials Technician: “Individuals who respond to releases or potential releases for the purpose of stopping the release. They assume a more aggressive role than a first responder at the operations level in that they will approach the point of release in order to plug, patch or otherwise stop the release of a hazardous substance.”
- Hazardous Materials Specialist: “Individuals who respond with and provide support to hazardous materials technicians. Their duties parallel those of the hazardous materials technician, however, those duties require a more directed or specific knowledge of the various substances they may be called upon to contain. The hazardous materials specialist would also act as the site liaison with Federal, state, local and other government authorities in regard to site activities.
- On-Scene Incident Commander: “[Individuals who] will assume control of the incident scene beyond the first responder awareness level.”
As we demonstrated in HazMat Training Requirements Part 1, it’s important to properly apply the standard’s three applicability statements. Then, following applicability determination, it’s up to the employer to determine the level of responsibility of each employee, so the proper level of training can be provided.
We recommend reviewing Appendix E of the HAZWOPER Standard (Training Curriculum Guidelines) for supplemental details on developing a training program, choosing training topics, and executing training.