OSHA Compliance Issues:

Correcting Common Health
And Safety Program Deficiencies
At Remediation Sites

Richard Fairfax, Column Editor, Reported by MaryAnn Garrahan, Earl M. Cook, and Nina J. Baird


In late 1992 the occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) joined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an interagency agreement, and participated with EPA in forming the EPA/Labor Superfund Health and Safety Task Force.(1) Other organizations participating in the task force include the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Laborer's Safety and Health Fund of North America, the International Association of Firefighters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Department of Energy, and the International Union of Operating Engineers. The task force mission is to evaluate and improve worker safety and health at hazardous waste facilities and to improve communication among task force members. During a subsequent 34-month period, the task force reviewed the safety and health plans of 18 Superfund remediation contractors and conducted 10 comprehensive site audits. Based on the results of those audits and plan reviews, the task force has prepared training and guidance material for both compliance officials and hazardous waste contractors.

Conducting comprehensive site safety and health audits is one of the major initiatives undertaken by the task force. These audits are performed by teams of OSHA professionals who spend 3 to 4 days assessing a site's implementation of OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard (HAZWOPER, 29 CFR 1910.120) and evaluating the overall effectiveness of the site's safety and health program.(2) Audit team members examine each contractor's written site safety and health plan and other program documentation; interview employees, safety and health personnel, site management, and union representatives; conduct walk-through inspections; collect wipe samples or air samples as necessary; and talk with local emergency response agencies. Information collected during these audits is used both to improve worker safety and health at the audited site and to educate the task force about field conditions and field needs.

To date, task force audits have focused on sites using thermal technology, such as incineration and low temperature thermal desorption. The pattern of deficiencies emerging from these audits, however, resembles the citation pattern for hazardous waste sites in general. Regardless of the treatment method being used, deficiencies most commonly observed at hazardous waste sites involve the site's written safety and health plan, engineering controls, work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Additional problem areas noted during task force audits include site monitoring practices and emergency response programs. Wherever hazardous waste site operations are currently being conducted, many of the following deficiencies and recommended corrective actions are likely to be applicable.

Deficiency 1: Ineffective Management of Safety and Health Functions

Ineffective safety and health management increases the likelihood of deficiencies in site safety and health practices at hazardous waste sites. At four of the ten sites audited by OSHA audit teams, deficiencies in site safety and health practices were directly attributable to a lack of knowledge and experience among on-site safety and health personnel. At four additional sites, deficiencies existed because the site management structure or contract language prevented on-site personnel from exercising their judgment in matters of safety and health. At some of these sites, on-site personnel were required to obtain approval for their day-to-day safety and health recommendations from off-site decision makers who were not readily available. Where this occurred, the time required to implement changes in safety and health procedures put employees at increased risk. For example, OSHA audit teams found several instances in which on-site safety and health personnel had recommended PPE downgrades based on site exposure monitoring data. The downgrades were delayed, however, because contract language was inflexible with regard to PPE requirements or because off-site safety and health decision makers had not responded to the recommendations. The delays placed workers in unnecessarily high levels of PPE with increased risk of heat stress, restricted vision, impaired communication, and increased fatigue.

OSHA audit teams found another management problem common to multicontractor sites. Most multicontractor sites had not integrated key aspects of their site safety and health programs, nor had one individual been given overall safety and health enforcement authority. At one site, for example, employees of two different contractors worked side by side in different levels of PPE. At other sites, emergency communication procedures had not been integrated among site contractors. Contractors working in close proximity on a site used different alarm horn signals and different emergency radio frequencies. Because they had not conducted an evacuation drill, the contractors were unaware that these differences might cause confusion in an emergency. These types of inconsistencies in site safety and health practices undermine the message that safety and health requirements exist to protect the employee, and they may allow hazards to remain unabated, placing site employees at increased risk.

Corrective Action: Plan for Effective Management of the Safety and Health Program

Implementing safety and health programs at hazardous waste sites can be costly. To ensure that dollars are spent wisely, contractors should appoint well-qualified safety and health personnel. When negotiating contracts with an oversight agency or contractor, it is important to seek contract language that gives the safety and health program manager authority to exercise judgment and to make appropriate changes to safety and health procedures. The authority of the safety and health manager to enforce the safety and health requirements should be documented in the safety and health plan. Similarly, clear lines of authority between the prime contractor and subcontractors need to be established and documented. One site safety and health supervisor should have site-wide authority to enforce safety and health requirements.

Deficiency 2: Out-of-Date or Incomplete Written Site Safety and Health Plan

The site safety and health plan is another major source of citations at hazardous waste sites. OSHA's audit teams reviewed many plans that had been developed during the early phases of a project, before worker exposures were characterized. Because the plans had not been updated, the listed exposure levels, descriptions of work practices, monitoring protocols, and site PPE requirements did not reflect current on-site conditions. Descriptions of site organizational structure and lists of emergency contacts also tended to be inaccurate. Plans that did contain adequate site exposure data often lacked other site-specific detail. General statements about good safety and health practice rather than detailed descriptions of actual site safety and health practices were common in sections addressing decontamination, spill containment, confined space, medical surveillance, and heat stress.

Every written plan that the audit teams reviewed contained inadequate job hazard analysis. Site tasks were grouped into overly broad categories, such as "incineration activities." Hazards associated with site tasks were described in equally broad terms, such as "exposure to contaminated materials" or "slips, trips, and falls." None of the written plans provided hazard analyses for site maintenance tasks, which can be some of the most hazardous jobs in industrial operations. The hazard analyses were thus of little value to safety and health professionals needing to prescribe appropriate control measures, or to workers needing training on the specific hazards associated with their jobs.

Some plan elements were often missing altogether. In many plans reviewed by the audit team, for example, the requirement for a materials handling and spill containment program, as listed in HAZWOPER paragraph (b)(4)(ii)(J), had been overlooked.(2)

Corrective Action: Make the Written Safety and Health Plan a Site-Specific, Working Document

Throughout the course of a remediation project, the contractor's written safety and health plan must provide an accurate, detailed description of the contractor's safety and health practices at that site. Boilerplate documents should be avoided. Instead, accurate job hazard analyses need to be developed for each site task or operation, including maintenance tasks, and the remainder of the plan's requirements must be based on those analyses. Before completing the initial draft of a plan, the plan's contents should be compared with the list of required elements in HAZWOPER paragraph (b)(4)(ii)(A-J).(2) To make the plan a working document, both the job hazard analyses and the safety and health requirements that are based on the hazard analyses should be updated regularly. An up-to-date written plan documents current safety and health practices and can be used by contractors as a checklist to ensure that effective site safety and health practices are being maintained.

Deficiency 3: Inadequate Monitoring of the Nature and Level of Hazardous Exposures on Site

Measuring and documenting the level of employee exposures is a key element in any safety and health program and a consistent area of deficiencies at hazardous waste sites. Real-time monitoring for organic vapor and dusts is often the only method used to initially characterize worker exposures and to monitor exposure levels throughout project work, regardless of the potential contaminants identified in a site's Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study. OSHA audit teams visited several sites where worker exposure to metals, pesticides, and semi-volatile organics had not been adequately evaluated despite the fact that these contaminants were recognized hazards. Personal sampling methods that could accurately characterize on-site exposure levels had not been used, nor had dermal exposure to site contaminants been evaluated with wipe sampling, even when the potential for dermal exposure was high.

Corrective Action: Implement an Effective Monitoring Program to Evaluate Site Hazards

OSHA's HAZWOPER requirements are primarily intended to control worker exposure to hazardous substances. This can be accomplished only if site safety and health programs are based on accurate characterization of potential worker exposures. Quantitative evaluation of worker exposure levels provides the documentation necessary to support a site's initial choice of hazard controls, while ongoing monitoring provides the basis for retaining or modifying those controls. Often, monitoring results can be used to support a reduction in controls, such as a PPE downgrade. Appropriate sampling methods must be used, however, and a lack of exposure data cannot be used to justify a lack of controls.

Deficiency 4: Inappropriate Selection of PPE

Site PPE requirements are often developed when the site safety and health plan is initially drafted. As a result, they are typically based on inadequate exposure information, but are seldom modified, even when personal sampling data supporting modifications become available. OSHA audit teams found many instances in which site plans or contract specifications required inappropriate PPE. At one site where soil contaminated with volatile organics was being remediated, for example, full-face air-purifying respirators and Saranex-coated tyvek were required despite the absence of measurable levels of airborne exposure and the absence of splash hazards. Workers using this excessive PPE were placed at unnecessarily high risk of heat stress and could not see, communicate, or move with ease. Such inappropriate PPE selection places a contractor in noncompliance with HAZWOPER paragraph (g)(3) and OSHA's revised PPE standard, 29 CFR 1910.132(d), both of which require selection of PPE based on hazard evaluation.(2)

Corrective Action: Use Site Monitoring Data and Other Hazard Information to Document the Basis for PPE Selection

Exposure monitoring results should be used to continually refine and improve job hazard analyses and the corresponding PPE requirements. Although PPE may initially be selected based on the results of real-time air sampling, PPE selection must be reviewed after remediation work has begun and employee exposures have been characterized more fully with personal air sampling and direct observation of potential exposures under actual working conditions. Job hazard analyses that establish site PPE requirements based on accurate site exposure data and an evaluation of other potential site hazards can be used to meet the PPE hazard assessment requirements of 29 CFR 1910.132(d).(2)

Deficiency 5: Lack of a Program to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Safety and Health Procedures and to Correct Deficiencies

Although most hazardous waste sites conduct site inspections as required under HAZWOPER, inspection record keeping tends to be limited. In fact, none of the sites visited by OSHA audit teams had a record keeping system that allowed personnel to track the correction of deficiencies. When site personnel maintained safety and health log books, they typically noted deficiencies but not the correction of those deficiencies. In some cases, OSHA audit teams could not verify deficiency corrections at all, even after interviewing site personnel.

OSHA audit teams also found that most sites did not evaluate the effectiveness of site safety and health practices and procedures to confirm that they were controlling hazards. Sampling at site zone boundaries and on decontaminated equipment and clothing was rarely conducted, even though this type of sampling can provide objective evidence of the effectiveness of site controls.

Corrective Action: Establish an Ongoing Program to Evaluate Site Safety and Health Procedures

Documentation is essential to demonstrate compliance with HAZWOPER's site inspection and program evaluation requirements. After the site safety and health plan has been implemented, the effectiveness of the control measures selected must be evaluated. Wipe sampling can be used to assess decontamination methods and housekeeping procedures, for example, while air and/or wipe sampling can be used to reevaluate and relocate site zone boundaries. A written record of site inspections, noted deficiencies, and corrective actions will bring a contractor into compliance with this HAZWOPER requirement.

Deficiency 6: Emergency Response Planning

Emergency response planning is a major area of deficiency at hazardous waste sites. At sites visited by the audit teams, written emergency response plans seldom included site-specific emergency scenarios and responses, and employees lacked site-specific emergency response training. Employees interviewed by the audit team were uncertain of their responsibilities during specific types of emergencies, such as confined space rescue, spill containment, and fire suppression. Employee alarm systems were seldom tested for audibility under normal operating conditions, and many employees had not participated in evacuation drills. Emergency response plans at multiple-contractor sites were rarely integrated.

OSHA's audit teams also found that many sites failed to communicate adequately with local emergency responders. As a result, local fire fighters and medical personnel often lacked information about these sites' emergency response requirements. At a rural site storing 30,000 gallons of propane, for example, the emergency contact list contained incorrect telephone numbers for the emergency dispatch service and fire fighting crew. Moreover, local fire fighters had not been contacted about the site's fire hazards and emergency response needs.

Corrective Action: Develop Site-Specific Emergency Response Plans and Implement All Plan Requirement

Emergency response scenarios need to be developed for all potential site emergencies, and employees must receive training in their roles for each scenario. An employee's role in suppressing an incipient-stage fire, for example, is likely to differ from his or her role in a confined space rescue or spill response. Employees must know where site emergency response equipment is located and how to use this equipment. For example, training in the location and use of fire extinguishers or spill absorbent is necessary if employees are required to use them. Evacuation drills involving all site contractors and all intended evacuation routes and rally points need to be conducted. The employee alarm system must be tested during normal work operations. The accuracy of the site's emergency response phone list should be verified and each response agency must be contacted to confirm that the agency understands site hazards and emergency response needs.


Like all industry programs, site safety and health programs benefit from effective planning, full implementation, and careful, ongoing management. Correcting common deficiencies is important not only to protect the health and safety of hazardous waste site workers, but also to maximize the benefit and cost effectiveness of site health and safety programs. Programs that effectively prevent injury and illness save dollars. They also avoid regulatory citations. Simple steps that can be taken to optimize the functioning of a site safety and health program include:

  • appointing well-qualified safety and health personnel who have the authority to make site safety and health decisions;  
  • tailoring and updating the site safety and health plan to reflect on-site conditions and work practices throughout the life of a project;  
  • quantifying worker exposure levels using appropriate sampling methods;  
  • selecting PPE based on accurate, site-specific job hazard analyses;  
  • evaluating safety and health procedures on an ongoing basis and documenting deficiencies and corrective actions; and  
  • planning and practicing emergency response procedures thoroughly, so that on-site personnel and local responders know how to respond to emergencies.


1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Admin.: Interagency Agreement/Amendment DWl693592301-4. USEPA, Washington, DC, (1995).

2. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1910. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC (1995).


The opinions, findings, and conclusions presented by the authors are not necessarily those of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Any mention of materials or products does not imply an endorsement by OSHA.

EDITORIAL NOTE: MaryAnn Garrahan is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Technical Programs and Coordination Activities. At the time of this publication she was with the Office of Health Compliance. She can be contacted at N-3655 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20210; telephone: (202) 693-2144. Earl Cook, now retired, was an industrial hygienist with OSHA's Health Response Team. Located at USDOL OSHA, 8660 South Sandy Parkway, Sandy, Utah 84070-6424; telephone: (801) 233-4900. Nina Baird is a senior scientist with ATL International. She can be contacted at ATL International, Germantown, Maryland; telephone: (301) 972-4430. Currently, questions regarding hazardous material compliance issues should be directed to Sven Rundman in the Office of Health Compliance at N-3467 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20210; telephone: (202) 693-2585 or Glenn Lamson, OSHA Health Response Team, USDOL OSHA 8660 South Sandy Parkway, Sandy, Utah 84070-6424; telephone: (801) 233-4914.