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Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER)

Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response - Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

General Businesses

Any worker or employer may be affected by a variety of emergency situations. Even though workers may not conduct emergency response or recovery operations—like rescue workers, law enforcement officers, or cleanup technicians—all employers and their workers should be prepared for emergency situations. This tab provides information for general businesses on HAZWOPER requirements. Please visit the Getting Started – General Business Preparedness page for additional information on planning, preparing, equipping, and training for emergencies.

Malfunctions, damage from natural events, intentional acts, or human error can all lead to emergencies. OSHA's Emergency Preparedness and Response Safety and Health Topic page provides additional information on how to prepare and train for emergencies and the general hazards to be aware of when an emergency occurs. It provides information for employers and workers across industries, including workers who will respond to emergencies, and applies to a wide variety of emergency preparedness and response incidents. For guidance on a particular type of emergency, visit specific OSHA safety and health topic pages.

HAZWOPER does not cover accidental or foreseeable releases of hazardous substances limited in quantity and posing no significant safety or health hazard to workers in the immediate area [as referenced in 29 CFR 1910.120(a)(3)] (e.g., a pint bottle of xylene dropped and cleaned up by workers in the work area). However, in such circumstances employers must follow the requirements of the Hazard Communication (HCS) standard. Although only certain workers (e.g., rescue workers, chemical operators, or cleanup technicians) may conduct emergency response or cleanup operations, it is important for employers to develop a plan, train workers, and have necessary equipment ready before a disaster or emergency occurs.

Planning requirements
Photo Credit: OSHA News Photo/Shawn Moore - A team of responders discusses emergency operations at a disaster site.

Photo Credit: OSHA News Photo/Shawn Moore

A team of responders discusses emergency operations at a disaster site.

Employers who will evacuate their employees from the danger area when an emergency occurs, and who do not permit any of their employees to assist in handling the emergency, are exempt from certain emergency response planning requirements, including the development of an emergency response plan (ERP), under HAZWOPER if they provide an emergency action plan (EAP) in accordance with the Emergency Action Plans standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910.38; in construction, 29 CFR 1926.35). The EAP should include procedures for sheltering in place, immediate evacuation, and worker training. The EAP also should address natural disasters that could occur in the area. While employers and workers may have advanced notice or warning ahead of some disasters (e.g., severe storms, hurricanes, or floods), some types of disasters occur without warning (e.g., earthquakes).

Employers and workers must regularly practice the EAP's procedures and review the plan to keep it current. Conducting drills or exercises is an excellent way to help workers understand and remember the plan and their roles in it.

To respond to a release, employers may contract with an outside, fully-trained emergency response team. The employers must pre-plan and coordinate with the outside companies to understand their response capability before a hazardous substance release occurs. Visit the Getting Started – General Business Preparedness page for additional information on planning, preparing, equipping, and training for emergencies.

Sheltering in Place and Evacuation

In the event of a hazardous substance emergency, two key actions can help protect workers and others in a place of business: taking shelter (i.e., sheltering in place) and evacuating to safety. Employers should plan for both possibilities. It is critical to communicate about, and regularly conduct shelter-in-place drills and practice evacuation exercises to ensure that all workers understand their roles and responsibilities during an emergency. It is also useful to evaluate drills and exercises, and use the "lessons learned" to improve future performance and response capabilities.

OSHA strongly recommends following shelter and evacuation guidance from local emergency response authorities, which may be available from television, radio, or Internet sources. If specifically told by state or local emergency response authorities to evacuate or seek medical treatment, do so immediately.

Please visit the Getting Started – Evacuation and Sheltering in Place page for additional information.

Personal Protective Equipment

OSHA requires employers to assess their workplaces to determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Details about employer responsibilities related to PPE, including requirements for certain types of PPE, are available on OSHA's Personal Protective Equipment Safety and Health Topics page.

Under OSHA's PPE standards, employers are responsible for ensuring that their workers have and properly use PPE when necessary. PPE can include respiratory protection, protective clothing, and protective barriers used to prevent or reduce worker exposure to chemical (including oil), biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN), and other hazards. The selection of PPE is based on anticipated hazards and PPE selections may need to be modified as a result of monitoring and assessing actual working conditions. In planning for worker PPE needs, employers should consider the full range of a particular hazard a worker may experience (e.g., respirator cartridges suitable for both chemical and particulate exposures even if workers may only need protection from particulates most of the time). Although employers of workers who are not emergency responders may not naturally think about hazards present during emergency events, it is important that all employers remember to identify hazards that may be present, and PPE that may be needed, in emergency conditions.

The following are some of the important steps employers need to take with respect to PPE:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment to determine what safety and health hazards workers may encounter;
  • Follow the hierarchy of controls—including elimination/substitution and engineering, work practice, and administrative controls—before relying on PPE to protect workers;
  • Determine what PPE workers need;
  • Provide the proper PPE to workers;
  • Train workers in the proper use of PPE, including how to put it on and take it off correctly, and how to clean, maintain and dispose of it after or between uses;
  • Ensure that PPE is used properly and whenever necessary; and
  • Provide medical exams and/or fit testing, as required by OSHA standards, prior to using certain types of PPE (e.g., respirators ), and regularly review and update the PPE program as hazards change.

OSHA's Safety and Health Topic page on Personal Protective Equipment and the Getting Started – PPE for Emergencies page provide information on PPE for various hazards across a range of industries and links to relevant OSHA standards and more specific Safety and Health Topic webpages.

Training for Non-Emergency Response Workers

Although OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard (29 CFR 1910.120) may not apply to non-emergency response workers impacted by a hazardous substances emergency], other OSHA standards may contain applicable training requirements. It is important for employers to:

  • Train workers in advance of an emergency occurring and clarify worker roles and responsibilities for emergency situations, including when workers are sheltering in place or evacuating.
  • Regularly review and reinforce knowledge of procedures, facilities, systems, and equipment.
  • Establish and maintain clear procedures for organizational coordination and communications.
  • Practice and analyze emergency procedures to identify weaknesses and resource gaps.
  • Evaluate policies, plans and procedures and the knowledge and skills of team members.
  • Comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws, codes, and regulations.
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