What is HAZWOPER and who needs OSHA HAZWOPER training?

The Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard, or HAZWOPER abbreviated, was enacted by OSHA in 1990. It is designed to protect employees involved in the initial stages of chemical release emergencies, the following clean-up of a site once the emergency has been stabilized, and the clean-up of legacy industrial chemical contamination. 

It is a comprehensive standard with origins that date back to the nuclear fission development sites of World War Two. 

OSHA identified the need to provide protection specifically for workers and developed HAZWOPER based on existing Department of Defense (DOD) guidance, with additional input from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

HAZWOPER is a health and safety standard designed to train employees for safety whilst they perform chemical response actions; it is not designed to train on specific technical response activities such as plugging chemical leaks or spill remediation – all such activities require further certification and specific job-site training.

Who needs OSHA HAZWOPER training?

The keyword when considering application of the HAZWOPER training is “uncontrolled”.

When a chemical emergency occurs, or a site with a potential chemical legacy is discovered, these may be identified as uncontrolled sites by a government body if the “accumulation of hazardous substances creates a threat to the health and safety of individuals or the environment or both.” 

The specific level or jurisdictional area is irrelevant – it might be Federal, State or local – but the identification is made by the established relevant authority.

HAZWOPER is designed to reduce the risks of chemical exposure to workers employed in one of three specific activities:

  • Uncontrolled hazardous waste site operators
  • Treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) personnel
  • Emergency responders

HAZWOPER training is required when:

  • Employees are exposed to high concentrations of poisonous substances
  • Employees are exposed to chemical conditions that pose a fire or explosion hazard
  • Employees are entering sites with atmospheres at or above IDLH levels
  • Employees are exposed to oxygen deficient atmospheres (less than 19.5% oxygen)
  • Employees are leading evacuations due to chemical atmospheres or oxygen deficient conditions
  • Employees are performing confined space entry
  • Employees are supervising workers exposed to any of the above dangers

Who doesn’t need HAZWOPER training?

This may seem like an odd question, but consider the following scenario: 

An organization has staff in roles that bring them into potential contact with hazardous chemicals and waste, and they are assigned HAZWOPER training. Many of these staff do not need it. 

Workers whose duties are on controlled hazardous waste sites, such as landfills or waste collection facilities with non-permitted accumulator status under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), often do not need HAZWOPER. 

Workers who handle chemicals for a living such as laboratory personnel, water treatment plant workers, or chemical manufacturing plant workers do not necessarily need HAZWOPER training either. 

Unless the worker is performing in one of the three uncontrolled hazardous waste site roles, or is supervising personnel in those roles, then HAZWOPER is not required. 

In the majority of cases, these workers require a detailed and comprehensive program under the Hazard Communication Training standard (HAZCOM).

HAZCOM is often ineffectively applied and the gap is filled with HAZWOPER. This is inadequate and unproductive.

Not only that, HAZCOM training is almost always shorter and less costly than OSHA 8 Hour HAZWOPER training, and is also included in the OSHA 10 Hour General Industry curriculum.

HAZWOPER 8 Hour Refresher Training

HAZWOPER refresher training is particularly well-suited to online delivery.

Organizations no longer have to schedule employees’ physical location for training, provision a classroom and instructor, and have large numbers of the workforce out of service for eight hours at the same time. 

A training manager can register their staff for an elearning program, assign and track the course remotely throughout the organization, and have personnel complete the training in a timeframe that suits everyone. 

With HAZWOPER 8 Hour refresher training required annually under HAZWOPER paragraph (e), there is no reason why training cannot be completed over a period of months. 

For repeat trainees, this can become a constant improvement process. For example, the final hour could be completed in December of one year, then the first hour of the next year’s training be completed in the following January, neatly satisfying OSHA’s annual training requirements. 

There are benefits to this incremental training approach as the trainee is exposed to elements of HAZWOPER throughout the year, rather than having everything thrown at them in one day. This improves retention and boosts both competence and effectiveness.

Read More: Project Management Professional (PMP®) Certification & Training An Overview

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