OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

July 25, 1990

Mr. Larry Huston
Manager of Loss Control
ConAgra, Inc.
One Central Park Plaza
Omaha, Nebraska 68102

Dear Mr. Huston:

This is in response to your letter of June 7 concerning the application of the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard (29 CFR 1910.120) to specific operations.

This standard covers clean-up operations of hazardous substances, licensed or interim status hazardous waste treatment, storage, or disposal (TSD) facilities, emergency response activities at these two operations in addition to emergency response situations involving hazardous substances that occur at locations other than hazardous waste sites and TSD facilities. All other pertinent standards, including those involving hazardous materials, also apply to these operations. If there is a conflict or overlap, the provision more protective of employee safety and health apply. (See 29 CFR 1910.120(a)(2)(i).

Section (q) of the standard applies to the following examples you gave in your letter of operations which use hazardous substances in a manner where there may be potential emergencies:

1. Anhydrous ammonia used as a cooling agent;

2. Manufacturing, processing, and storing of agricultural farm chemicals; and

3. Chlorine used as a bleaching agent during the processing of flour for baking.

Nuisance spills, minor releases, etc. which do not require immediate attention (due to danger to employees) are not considered emergencies. Where applicable, all employees involved in an emergency response must be trained under 29 CFR 1910.120. The type and amount of training is based on the duties and functions to be performed by the employees. To assist you with the training requirements under this standard, I have enclosed a copy of the following OSHA article, "Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response: A Closeup Look at Training." If you have further questions, please feel free to contact OSHA's Kansas City Regional office at:

         Regional Administrator
         U.S. Department of Labor - OSHA
         911 Walnut Street, Room 406 
         Kansas City, Missouri 64106
         Telephone:  (816)426-5861

I hope this information is helpful.


Patricia K. Clark Director
Designate Directorate of Compliance Programs


ROOM "N" 3469




After reading and re-reading the 1910.120 hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard final rule, I find that there is still some question about how to interpret the rule when related to a release of a chemical substance while in a normal work place. Rather than "guess" at the typical double talk, and the true intent of the standard, I would like to hear where your department really thinks the standard applies, and where the standard separates from hazardous waste site operations and general industry. In addition further define any typical emergency response personnel, from those who would respond to an emergency in what is normally a non-hazardous work place.

Our company has several facilities that process food products; fresh and frozen meat, fresh and frozen fish, fresh and frozen poultry, and convenience food groups found in typical food markets for consumers. In addition our company is engaged in agricultural chemicals, in which the product produced, packaged, distributed, and sold, ultimately reaches the farm sector. Also our company processes all types of flour, and uses a bleaching agent in this process called chlorine. This now sets the stage for my questions.

Inside many of these facilities we have coolers, which use a product known as anhydrous ammonia as a cooling agent in our refrigeration units. Anhydrous ammonia is listed on the chemical hazardous substance list. Our company recognizes the inherent dangers associated with this process of using the chemical anhydrous ammonia as a cooling agent, and therefore has prepared an emergency action plan for these facilities, which includes trained personnel to respond to any type release, should the system fail, leak, or otherwise operate outside the engineered design or purpose. These "response personnel" may be maintenance persons, a trained watchman, or employees who have been given supervision about what, when or where some type action may isolate an abnormal condition. Does this standard apply in this instance?

Another segment of our company manufactures, processes, distributes and stores agricultural farm chemical. Many of these substances are hazardous materials. We recognize the hazards of these substances and have health, life safety, and emergency action plans. As required by other regulations, our employees are trained about the dangers of these chemicals, as well as what to do in the event of an emergency. Some of these employees would respond to the emergency in some instances, others would evacuate, and others would be responsible for clean-up. Assuming the emergency is not catastrophic, but not expected, and definitely would require some type of "response people" of which are our employees, but not that of the fire department, or haz-mat team. Does the 1910.120 standard apply in this instance?

Finally, our company process all types of flour for baking. During this process we use a hazardous material known as chlorine as a bleaching agent. We recognize the hazards of chlorine, and have emergency action plans to handle conditions abnormal to the process. We have certain employees trained in the handling of this product, and they would respond to an incident. These persons will likely have other job functions which would be part of processing the flour. These same persons are not classified as "response persons" but they certainly know who would do what, where and when, during an emergency involving the product chlorine. Does this same standard apply in this scenario? Is the standard written with the intent to protect those people whose job function requires emergency response type action, or those persons who work in the clean-up of hazardous work sites as their sole employment? Is OSHA trying to apply this standard to general industry, in such a fashion as to cover and overlap other OSHA regulations involving hazardous materials?

Please respond to this sincere, but troublesome problem in a timely and complete written statement.

Kind regards,

Larry Huston
cc-6 Manager of loss control
ConAgra Inc.
One Central Park Plaza
Omaha, Nebraska 68102


By T.H. Seymour, P.E.

On March 6, 1989, OSHA promulgated a final rule on Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (29 CFR Part 1910). The rule, which will take effect on March 6, 1990, is a direct result of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA).

SARA (42 USC 9601, Titles I-IV) set the nation on a path toward better preparedness in dealing with emergencies involving the release of hazardous substances. The law also strengthened the nation's efforts to clean up hazardous waste and deal with other issues on hazardous chemicals. SARA required OSHA to develop interim(1) and final rules, and Congress identified specific criteria for the agency to follow in establishing regulations for hazardous waste operations and emergency response activities.

Footnote(1): See Federal Register 51:4564, December 19, 1986. ____________

For example, Title I of SARA specifies safety and health requirements for employers and Title III deals with local community emergency response plans. These two sections are examined here with respect to the OSHA standard and, in particular, their training requirements. The training requirements are significant because this is the first time that OSHA has mandated a specific number of training hours in a final rule.

Title I, Section 126 of SARA required OSHA to develop a standard that would set minimum safety and health requirements for (1) employers involved in hazardous waste or substance clean-up activities at government identified sites(2); (2) employers involved in storing, treating, or disposing of hazardous waste; and (3) employers involved in emergency response to the release of hazardous substances.

Footnote(2): Examples include the National Priority List of sites as well as
those listed by other federal agencies and by state or local governments.

SARA required that the OSHA standards include, at a minimum, the following areas: site analysis, training, medical surveillance, protective equipment, engineering controls, maximum exposure limits, information, hazardous waste handling, new technologies, decontamination procedures, and emergency response.

Although each of these issues is important in protecting workers, the purpose of this article is to examine, in some detail, the training requirements of the final rule for each of the three categories of employers covered.

Hazardous Waste Cleanup Operations

Paragraph (e) of the standard establishes the initial training requirements for employees and supervisors who are or will be involved in hazardous waste/substance cleanup operations at government-identified sites.

The training requirements are organized in a tiered arrangement (see Table 1). In the first tier are employees and supervisors who remove or excavate hazardous substances at the site. For example, this category includes laborers, operating engineers and their supervisors.

Before beginning work, these individuals must have 40 hours of training offsite and then 24 hours of on-the-job training with a trained and experienced supervisor. All supervisors who will be working in these operations must have eight additional hours of specialized training in managing hazardous waste operations.

The required training for supervisors concerns safety and health issues, such as the supervisor's role and responsibilities in the employer's safety and health program, the medical surveillance program, and the training program.

The second tier sets forth the criteria for training employees who are onsite only occasionally to do a specific job (paragraph [e][3][ii]). For example, this would cover employees surveying the perimeter of a site to make a plat or to mark boundaries.

Workers who are onsite for short periods, and thus are unlikely to be exposed above any permissible exposure limit (PEL), are required to have a minimum of 24 hours of training offsite and then 8 hours of on-the-job training onsite by a trained and experienced supervisor.

Likewise, paragraph (e)(3)(iii) covers workers who will be onsite on a more regular basis, but who do not risk exposure above the PELs or to any other health hazard and are not subjected to the possibility of an emergency situation.

For example, such individuals might include those involved in the final work activities in completing a closure operation on a site before it is removed from the government list.

These workers are required to have 24 hours of training offsite, and then 8 hours of on-the-job training by a trained and experienced supervisor. In either case, the required training is to be taken before employees may perform their regular job duties without close supervision.

Supervisors or managers who work at cleanup sites must receive eight hours of training beyond the initial basic training requirements. This additional training includes areas such as their employer's occupational safety and health program and their role in the program.

Workers and supervisors at all three levels of exposure are also required to receive eight additional hours of annual refresher training.

As appropriate, experienced incumbent employees may substitute prior training and experience for initial training requirements in the same subject.

Treatment, Storage and Disposal Sites

The next group of employers covered are those who store hazardous waste on their premises for more than 90 days, or are involved in treating or disposing of hazardous waste. These employers are covered under paragraph (p) of the standard. The applicable training requirements for employees of these employers are in paragraphs (p)(7) and (p)(8)(iii). (See Table 2.)

Initial training of at least 24 hours is mandatory for all new employees in this category. The training is expected to cover the employer's safety and health program, medical surveillance, decontamination, emergency response, hazard communication, new technology, and employee training, among others. The initial training is to inform and instruct new employees about their assigned duties and any related hazards and about their employer's safety and health policies and procedures. Moreover, employees who may be involved in emergency response operations need additional training.

At any rate, all employees on the permitted site area are to be provided eight hours of refresher training annually. Incumbent employees who are experienced and who have received training before the standard takes effect may substitute their prior training, where appropriate.

Other Emergency Response Staff

Employers of emergency response personnel are covered by the training requirements of paragraph (q) of the final rule. These employees respond from their typical work area to an emergency where hazardous substances are released or may be released (see Table 3).

In promulgating these requirements, OSHA used the National Fire Protection Association's Standard(3) as a model. OSHA's final rule also includes training criteria for the on-the-scene incident commander, specialist employees and skilled support employees. These types of position classifications were not included in the National Fire Protection Association Standard.

Footnote(3): See NFPA Publication No. 472-1989, Standard for Professional
Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials Incidents (Quincy,
Massachusetts: NFPA, 1989).

The OSHA standard establishes a continuum of training requirements for emergency responders, progressing from the "first-responder awareness level," at the lower, or first, level to the "hazardous materials specialist" and "incident commander" at the higher, or fifth, level.

At the first-responder awareness level, the competency level of training is directed toward the police, guard service personnel, night watchmen, emergency medical responders including ambulance personnel, and others who are likely to discover or respond to emergency incidents involving hazardous substances(4).

Footnote(4): Section 126 of SARA, paragraph (f), requires that the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgate regulations to provide
protection equal to that found in OSHA'S standard for state and local
government workers who would not be covered by OSHA-approved state plans. 
See Worker Protection Standards for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency
Response, 40 CFR Part 311, et seq., issued by the EPA on June 23, 1989. Also
notice that EPA's regulations define covered employees as including
"compensated or non-compensated worker[s]...controlled directly by State or
local government" (40 CFR Part 311.2).

The training is targeted at teaching employees to recognize the human hazards present during these emergencies and how to protect themselves against such hazards. The required training also includes how to accurately and fully report the necessary information to an "alarm dispatcher" so that subsequent emergency responders are fully informed. Many first-responder awareness training courses presently run from 4 to 12 hours, but the standard does not set a mandatory minimum.

The next level of training is for "first-responder operations." This is the level at which fire departments and fire brigade units typically operate. Such firefighting teams usually have complete ensembles of firefighter protective clothing and positive-pressure respiratory protective equipment available to them.

Eight hours of training is mandatory for the first responder operations level, in addition to worker competency at the first-responder awareness level. The required training is to prepare these employees to perform diking, ditching, and similar activities of a defensive nature - activities that do not require chemical protective clothing.

Where a fire occurs at the operations level, offensive actions may be taken to extinguish the fire provided that no chemical protective clothing is required. For example, in the case of a liquefied petroleum gas fire, personnel at the first responder operations level would work to shut off the gas flow and extinguish the fire once it was determined that no other chemicals are present and that offensive actions are required.

When these employees are expected to handle emergencies involving flammable liquids and gases in an offensive mode, then additional training is necessary and a minimum of 24 hours of training at the first-responder operations level is recommended. Such a 24-hour operations level training course will prepare those wishing to move up to the technician level of the on-scene commander level.

Next in the training hierarchy are the requirements for "hazardous materials technicians" and "hazardous material specialists." These are the employees OSHA expects to be used to staff "hazardous materials teams" (hazmat teams), spill control teams, and similar groups. Consequently, these employees must have chemical protective clothing available for their use.

The skill requirements for the hazardous material technicians are somewhat lower than those for the hazardous materials specialists. Hazardous materials technicians must have 24 hours of training at the first-responder operations level in addition to the knowledge and skills training the standard sets forth as necessary for these technicians.

The standard requires that hazardous materials technicians know, among other things, how to implement the employer's emergency response plan, how to properly select and use specialized chemical personal protective equipment and clothing, and how to implement proper decontamination procedures for hazardous substances.

The more skilled hazardous materials specialists will generally serve as the senior members of hazmat teams. At this level are the most highly skilled and trained responders having the broadest knowledge of hazardous substances.

The training required for a hazardous material specialist includes at least 24 hours of training at the technician level and such additional training or experience as necessary to acquire the knowledge and skills set forth in the standard.

The necessary skills and knowledge are to include, among other things, (1) how to implement the emergency response portions of the local emergency response plan developed under SARA Title III, (2) how to develop a site safety and control plan for hazardous substances emergency incidents, (3) how to properly use and calibrate hazardous substance sampling instruments (such as multiple organic vapor analyzers and the photoionization detectors), and (4) an understanding of the emergency response portions of the state emergency response plan developed under SARA Title III.

The on-scene incident commander, or officer in charge of the overall operations at the scene of an incident, should be a generalist with a broad knowledge of managing emergency incidents.

The commander level requires at least 24 hours of training at the first-responder operations level, with additional training or experience in how to manage emergency incidents involving hazardous substances.

At a minimum, the additional training is to include an understanding of (1) how to implement the employer's incident command system and the employer's emergency response plan, (2) the hazards and risks that are faced by responders working in chemical protective clothing, (3) how to implement the relevant parts of the local emergency response plan created under SARA Title III, and (4) the importance of following decontamination procedures.

Other categories of emergency responders identified in the standard include the "skilled support person," and "specialist employee." Skilled support personnel are those who may occasionally assist the incident commander by operating cranes, backhoes, or trucks. Since many of these workers do not expect to help in such incidents and do not have even minimal awareness training, attention must be given to their proper safety and health protection at the scene before they participate in the incident. This can be accomplished by an onsite briefing that includes a discussion of the hazards present, the personal protective clothing and equipment to be used, how the equipment is used, and the exact task they are expected to perform.

The "specialist employee" is an expert who may assist, counsel, or advise the incident commander. Specialist employees may provide technical assistance in operations such as servicing specific valves on a tank car, or in similarly skilled areas, in addition to offering advice. Specialist employees could also be medical or environmental experts.

Even though specialist employees are experts in their respective areas, they must be trained in how to interact within the incident command structure, and how to follow the operating procedures established by their employer. Their required training also is to inform them of the hazards that may be present at an emergency site.

All emergency response personnel covered by paragraph (q) must receive refresher training, at least annually, to ensure that their skills and competencies do not deteriorate and are not forgotten. Training that expands the knowledge of emergency responders upward along the continuum is acceptable to meet the annual refresher training requirements for the year during which the training was received.

It should be mentioned that the OSHA interim final rule requires 24 hours of training annually for emergency responders. The emergency responders who received training under the interim final rule should be able to apply a good portion of that training towards meeting the requirements of the final rule for their specific level of response.

For example, fire department or fire brigade members who received training at the first-responder operations level under the interim final rule may use those training hours that are relevant to their assigned duties to meet their obligations under the final rule. This is also true for hazardous materials team members and on-scene incident commanders.

As a result, some additional training for experienced emergency responders may be necessary to comply fully with the training requirements for their response level. Newly employed personnel, however, will need to comply fully with all the hours of training and related competencies for the level of work they are expected to perform.


Title III of SARA, "The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986," focuses on numerous issues that complement OSHA's standard. This law prescribes in detail the efforts to be made by states and local planning districts to develop and implement effective emergency response plans for their communities. The planning efforts are now, and will continue to be, of major significance in helping employers and emergency response organizations develop complete, quality plans, and to utilize such plans effectively.

Local emergency response plans must include training schedules, and schedules for conducting drills and exercises of the local district plans. Drills and exercises may be used, in part, to help meet the annual refresher training requirements for covered employees.

As discussed above, OSHA's hazardous waste standard requires that various responders be trained according to their responsibilities so they are knowledgeable of local emergency response plans, and are able to effectively implement the plan. These OSHA requirements and those of Title III of SARA interact effectively and support each objective in achieving the ultimate goals of ensuring the safety and health of emergency responders, as well as providing improved coordination and protection for local communities.


Note: Thomas Seymour is Deputy Director of OSHA's Directorate of Safety Standards Programs.



Brunacini, Alan V. Fire Command. Quincy, Massachusetts:

NFPA, 1985.

Brunacini, Alan V., and Beageron, J. David. Workbook for Fire Command. Quincy, Massachusetts, 1985.

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. Public Law 96-510. 42 United States Code 9601. December 11, 1980.

Incident Command System. Fire Protection Publications. Stillwater, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, 1983.

National Fire Protection Association. Standard for Professional Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials Incidents, NFPA No. 471-1989. Quincy, Massachusetts: NFPA, 1989.

Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986. Public Law 99-499. 42 United State Codes 9601, Titles I-IV. October 17, 1986.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Worker Protection Standards for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response - Final Rule. 40 Code of Federal Regulations Part 311.2. In: Federal Register, Vol. 54, No. 120, Part IV. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Federal Register, June 23, 1989. Pp 26654-62258.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Occupational Safety and Health Guidance Manual for Hazardous Waste Site Activities. NIOSH/OSHA/USCG/EPA. Publication No. DHHS (NIOSH) 85-115. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985.

U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response - Final Rule. 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1910.120. In: Federal Register Vol. 54, No. 42, Part III. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Federal Register, March 6, 1989,. Pp 9294-9336.

______. Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response - Interim Final rule. 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1910.120. In: Federal Register, Vol. 51, No. 244, Part IV. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Federal Register, December 16, 1986. Pp 45654-45675.

_______. Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response. Publication No. OSHA 3114. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.

U.S. Department of Transportation. Research and Special Programs Administration. Office of Hazardous Materials Transportation. 1987 Emergency Response Guidebook. Publication No. DOT P 5800.4. Washington, D.C.: USDOT, 1987.


Table 1. Training Requirements



Hazardous Waste Clean-Up Sites




o Routine site employees 40 hours initial


24 hours field*

8 hours annual refresher

o Routine site employees 24 hours initial (minimal exposure) 8 hours field* 8 hours annual refresher

o Non-routine site 24 hours initial employees 8 hours field* 8 hours annual refresher





o Routine site employees 40 hours initial


24 hours field*

8 hours hazardous waste management 8 hours annual refresher

o Routine site 24 hours initial employees 8 hours field* (minimal exposure) 8 hours hazardous waste management 8 hours annual refresher

o Non-routine site 24 hours initial employees 8 hours field* 8 hours hazardous waste management 8 hours annual refresher


Note: See 29 CFR 1910.120(e). *Refers to on-the-job training


Table 2. Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Sites __________________________________________________________________________



o General permit site employees 24 hours initial or equivalent

8 hours annual refresher

o Emergency response Trained to a level of personnel competency for assigned duties Annual refresher


Note: See CFR 1910.120(p)(7) and (p)(8) __________________________________________________________________________


Table 3. Training Requirements



Other Emergency Response Staff


Level 1 - First responder Sufficient training (awareness) level(1)

or proven experience in specific competencies Annual refresher

Level 2 - First responder Level 1 competency and (operations

level)(2) 8 hours initial or proven experience in specific competencies Annual refresher

Level 3 - HAZMAT technician(3) 24 hours of Level 2 and

proven experience in specific competencies Annual refresher

Level 4 - HAZMAT specialist(4) 24 hours of Level 3 and

proven experience in specific competencies Annual refresher

Level 5 - On-the-scene 24 hours of Level 2 and

         incident commander(5) additional competencies
                               Annual refresher



See 29 CFR 1910.120 (q)(6). __________________________________________________________________________

Footnote 1: Witnesses or discovers a release of hazardous materials and who are trained to notify the proper authorities.

Footnote 2: Responds to releases of hazardous substances in a defensive manner, without trying to stop the releases.

Footnote 3: Responds aggressively to stop the release of hazardous substances.

Footnote 4: Responds with and in support to HAZMAT technicians, but who have specific knowledge of various hazardous substances.

Footnote 5: Assumes control of the incident scene beyond the first-responder awareness level.