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Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER)

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

Overview

An unexpected release of hazardous substances, or a substantial threat of a hazardous substance release, can pose a significant health and safety risk to workers.Unexpected releases can be caused by operation failures and unrelated outside events (e.g., natural disasters, terrorism). Workers can encounter hazardous substances through waste dumped in the environment—a serious safety and health issue that continues to endanger life and environmental quality. Employers must adequately prepare emergency response and cleanup workers to clearly understand their role(s) in managing unexpected releases of hazardous substances, so that they can act quickly and respond in a safe manner during an emergency.

The Superfund Amendments Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1996 required OSHA to issue regulations protecting workers engaged in hazardous waste operations. OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910.120; and construction 29 CFR 1926.65) established health and safety requirements for employers engaged in these operations, as well as responses to emergencies involving releases of hazardous substances. HAZWOPER requires that employers follow specific work policies, practices, and procedures to protect their workers potentially exposed to hazardous substances. The standards provide employers with the information and training criteria necessary to ensure workplace health and safety during hazardous waste, emergency response, and cleanup operations involving hazardous substances. HAZWOPER aims to prevent and minimize the possibility of worker injury and illness resulting from potential exposures to hazardous substances.

Exposures to hazardous substances pose a wide range of acute (i.e., immediate) and chronic (i.e., long-term) health effects. These may include chemical burns, sensitization, irritation, and other toxic effects that may lead to death. Hazardous substance releases can also result in fires, explosions, high-energy events, and/or toxic atmospheres depending on the physical properties and health hazards of the released substance(s). OSHA's Chemical Hazards and Toxic Substances Safety and Health Topic page provides more information on safety and health hazards from exposure to hazardous substances.

Under the OSHA law, each employer is responsible for the safety and health of its workers and for providing a safe and healthful workplace. Employers must protect workers from anticipated hazards associated with participation in response and recovery operations for hazardous substances. For additional information on workers' rights, employer responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's employers page, workers page and publications list.

OSHA's role is to assure the safety and health of America's workers through setting and enforcing standards and providing outreach, education and compliance assistance. The publications "OSHA at a Glance" and All About OSHA provide information on the strategies and programs OSHA uses to promote worker safety and health.

About the HAZWOPER Safety and Health Topics Page

This webpage serves as a resource for workers and employers engaged in hazardous waste, emergency response, and cleanup operations involving hazardous substances. It highlights the responsibility of the employer to ensure effective preparedness for and management of emergency responses to potential exposures to hazardous substances.

The webpage includes the following sections:

Background

Provides an overview of HAZWOPER and a discussion of the possible sources of exposure or circumstances leading to exposure to the hazardous substances covered by the regulation. It describes the safety and health effects (injuries, illnesses, and fatality potential) associated with potential exposure to hazardous substances.

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General Businesses

Provides information for general businesses. The information in this section applies to operations and incidents involving hazardous substances, for which emergency preparedness and response activities may be necessary.

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Preparedness

Provides information on key provisions and employer requirements for categories of work operations covered by HAZWOPER.  The page also addresses how HAZWOPER requirements relate to employer and worker preparedness (e.g., planning, equipping, and training).

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HAZWOPER Training FAQs

Provides frequently asked questions about HAZWOPER training requirements and training interpretations.

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OSHA Resources

Provides links to OSHA-generated information about HAZWOPER. It includes resources developed and maintained by OSHA or developed and maintained through OSHA collaboration with interagency partners. It directs users to interagency guidance documents, websites, fact sheets, and brochures.

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Additional Resources

Provides links to additional resources on HAZWOPER topics, developed and maintained by organizations outside of OSHA. These may include materials from other federal or state government agencies, international agencies, peer-reviewed journals, or non-profit or non-governmental organizations focusing on emergency preparedness and response.

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How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?

Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.

OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).

Small business employers may contact OSHA's free and confidential On-site Consultation program to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. Consultants in this program from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA's free consultation service, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation web page or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.

Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.

If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.

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