Of the plethora of hazardous materials regulations that we learn about in hazmat training and encounter in our hazmat careers, the HAZWOPER Standard is often shrouded in mystery and misunderstood by hazmat responders. Many responders also erroneously dismiss the HAZWOPER Standard as a regulation that only applies to industry personnel. In this discussion, we will delve into the HAZWOPER Standard in detail so that we will be adequately armed with knowledge in our hazmat planning, training and response activities. image

What is the HAZWOPER Standard?

The acronym HAZWOPER actually stands for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response and the standard itself can be found in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations at 29 CFR 1910.120. “Title 29” denotes that the Standard was promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the “Part 1910” indicates that the regulation falls under the auspices of those pertaining to general industry. The HAZWOPER Standard was preceded by the “Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Guidance Manual” in 1984 and was initially promulgated as an Interim Final Rule in December of 1986 by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). The full HAZWOPER Standard then went into effect in March of 1990.

While the HAZWOPER Standard was developed and published by Federal OSHA, there are states — such as North and South Carolina — that are termed OSHA Plan States, meaning that such states have a regulatory authority that enforces a state-developed occupational safety and health plan that is as least as stringent — and can be more stringent — than Federal OSHA Standards.

Since Federal OSHA Regulations do not usually apply to federal and local government settings, public sector personnel in states that are not OSHA Plan States may think that the HAZWOPER Standard does not apply to them. While they are often correct in that statement, hazmat responders should be aware that the EPA has developed a parallel standard (termed 40 CFR 311) that does apply in such situations and mirrors the HAZWOPER Standard. As emergency responders, we may also think that since the HAZWOPER Standard lies within Part 1910 of 29 CFR it applies only to general industry personnel.

This perception is far from the truth, as emergency response agencies in OSHA Plan states can be cited by the appropriate regulatory agency for non-compliance with the HAZWOPER Standard.


We will next turn our attention to the settings that the HAZWOPER Standard applies to. These five settings include clean-up operations by governmental entities, corrective actions involving clean-ups at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) sites, voluntary clean-ups at uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, operations at hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal (TSD) sites; and emergency response operations for releases of, or threats of substantial releases of hazardous substances. As emergency responders, we fall into the latter of the five settings listed above, which is covered in 29 CFR 1910.120(q).

The first component of 29 CFR 1910.120(q), covers emergency response plans. Per the standard, an emergency response plan is required to be developed in writing and be available on scene prior to commencing response operations. An exception exists for employers who evacuate their employees from release danger areas and do not allow them to assist with emergency response operations if an emergency action plan compliant with 29 CFR 1910.38 (Emergency Action Plans) is in effect. The required elements of an emergency response plan are as follows:

  • Pre-Emergency Planning and Coordination with Outside Parties
  • Personnel Roles, Lines of Authority, Training, and Communications
  • Emergency Recognition and Prevention
  • Safe Distances and Places of Refuge
  • Site Security and Control
  • Evacuation Routes and Procedures
  • Decontamination
  • Emergency Medical Treatment and First Aid
  • Emergency Alerting and Response Procedures
  • Critique of Responses and Follow-Up
  • Personal Protective and Emergency Equipment

To avoid duplication, emergency response organizations may use elements of the applicable Local Emergency Response Plan (LERP) or State Emergency Response Plan. Items addressed by Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) may be substituted into the Emergency Response Plan or attached to the same.

Handling Emergency Responses

The second component of 29 CFR 1910.120(q) that we will discuss pertains to procedures for handling emergency responses. In this section, the HAZWOPER Standard states that the use of an Incident Command System (ICS) is mandated at hazmat incidents and that the senior emergency response official on scene is the individual in charge of the ICS — termed Individual in Charge). The use of a Unified Command is alluded to, as it is stated that emergency responders at a hazmat scene and related communications shall be controlled and coordinated through the Individual in Charge with assistance from the senior official from each employer on scene. In addition, the use of a “Buddy System” is required at hazmat incidents, in which personnel enter hazard areas in groups of two or more. Just as with the “Two-in, Two-Out” requirement for structure fires stated in 29 CFR 1910.134, the HAZWOPER Standard requires that properly trained and equipped back-up personnel be present to assist or rescue personnel in the hazard area at hazmat incidents.

The presence of Basic Life Support (BLS) personnel with medical equipment and transport capabilities is also required at hazmat scenes, along with the designation of a Safety Officer knowledgeable in the operations at hand and the deployment of decontamination measures prior to the entry of personnel into the hot zone.

Skilled Support Personnel

The third component of 29 CFR 1910.120(q) refers to Skilled Support Personnel that temporarily perform support functions — such as operating heavy equipment — at an emergency response scene. Such personnel are not required to meet the training requirements stipulated for other emergency response personnel, however Skilled Support Personnel are required to receive an initial briefing at the incident site discussing the Personal Protective Equipment utilized, the hazards encountered, and duties performed.

An additional category of personnel is addressed in the fourth component of 29 CFR 1910.120(q), that being employees providing technical advice to the Individual in Charge — termed Specialist Employees — who shall receive annual training or demonstrate their competency annually.

One of the most detailed components of 29 CFR 1910.120(q) addresses the training required of personnel. Although the required training is sometimes not as stringent as that required by state regulatory agencies that govern fire service/emergency response personnel, agencies can still be cited for not meeting the minimum training required. The first level of training stipulated in 29 CFR 1910.120(q) is the First Responder Awareness level, which allows such personnel to initiate a response, identify the product or products involved; and use the Emergency Response Guidebook. In North Carolina, fire service personnel are no longer certified to the Awareness level, as personnel are required to be certified to the First Responder Operations level prior to becoming certified as a firefighter.

Responders at the operations level can perform defensive operations — such as damming or diking — that keep them out of the area of exposure to hazardous substances and are required to have eight hours of training in specified subject areas in addition to the training received at the Awareness level; or demonstrate competency in those areas. Hazardous Materials Technicians are able to enter the hot zone and perform offensive control measures. Technicians are required to complete at least 24 hours of training equal to the Operations level and additionally demonstrate competency in specified Technician level topics. Hazardous Materials Specialists receive detailed training in specific topical areas and are required to complete at least 24 hours of training at the Technician level and to demonstrate competency in stated areas.

On-Scene Incident Commander

The final level of certification addressed in 29 CFR 1910.120(q) is that of On-Scene Incident Commander. On-Scene Incident Commanders are required to receive 24 hours of training at the Operations level and to demonstrate competency in topical areas that pertain to the management of hazardous materials incidents. Irrespective of the level of training and certification level of personnel, annual refresher training of sufficient content and duration, or an annual demonstration of competency is required to be completed. A common misconception is that a specific time duration of refresher training is required. Although there are usually “industry standards” that are commonplace in most areas, a specific time duration is not specified in 29 CFR 1910.120(q).

The three remaining components of 29 CFR 1910.120(q) refer to the requirement that Hazmat Team Members and Specialists receive an initial baseline medical exam and annual medical surveillance exams, the chemical protective clothing utilized by Hazmat Team Members or Specialists, and post-emergency response clean-up operations. In addition, the HAZWOPER Standard has appendices that cover non-mandatory Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) test methods, the levels of PPE, compliance guidelines (including the development of a Site Safety and Control Plan), and references. Of the appendices, the most pertinent to emergency responders is the requirement for Site Safety and Control Plan development in the appendix referencing compliance guidelines. OSHA states that a Site Safety and Control Plan “greatly assist in assuring the safety and health of employees.” Such a plan is specifically tailored to an incident scene and can be included in the emergency response plan or may exist as an attachment to it.

In summation, the relevant portions of the HAZWOPER Standard in general — and 29 CFR 1910.120(q) specifically for emergency responders — should be in compliance by emergency response personnel. Not only is the HAZWOPER Standard a requirement that we can be cited for if we are not in compliance, it is a moral and ethical imperative that allows us to ensure the safety of responders and the public. As hazardous materials response personnel, we should be intimately acquainted with the HAZWOPER Standard and its use in hazmat planning, training and response. As always, stay safe out there and be sure to visit the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders website at www.nchazmat.com.

Glenn Clapp is a past president of the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders; and is the emergency manager for the City of High Point and a safety officer for the High Point Fire Department with the rank of Battalion Chief. He has almost 20 years of fire service and emergency management experience and is a Technician-Level Hazmat Instructor; and is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager and Certified Fire Protection Specialist.

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