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 http://www.osha.gov.

October 2, 1991

Mr. Thomas A. Valente, Jr.
1 Plymouth Road
Westbrook, Maine 04092-4634

Dear Mr. Valente:

This is in response to your letter of May 24, concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response final rule (29 CFR 1910.120).

We will respond to your questions one at a time.

Question 1. What is the minimum training a fire fighter can have to respond as an emergency responder to a known hazmat incident?

Fire fighters may be trained to the first responder awareness level. This would allow them to classify a release incident as one requiring an emergency response. Alerting the proper authorities that there is hazmat incident would be all a fire fighter trained to the first responder awareness level could do.

However, the key phrase in the above question is "to a known hazmat incident." Since the incident is already known to involve hazardous substances, the minimum level of training required for an emergency responder would be the first responder operations level.

The standard is performance oriented, allowing different fire departments to respond to the differing needs of their communities. It may be appropriate to train the majority of fire fighters in one company to the first responder operations level while training others to higher levels, i.e., members of the hazmat team. However, fire fighters can only respond at the level to which they have been trained.

Your second question reads as follows;

Question 2. If a person is trained to the [operations] level what is he able to do? Not able to do?

Emergency responders trained to the [operations] level are not necessarily able to do anything during an emergency response. Job responsibilities define training requirements; training does not define job responsibilities. Paragraph 1910.120(q)(6) states that "Training shall be based on the duties and function to be performed by each responder of an emergency response organization."

Therefore, if an emergency responder has not been trained in a specific procedure and/or informed that they will be asked to perform that procedure during an emergency response they are not "able" to perform that task regardless of their training level.

Although this point might seem academic it is a fundamental premise of the HAZWOPER final rule. In its simplest form, it means, if you haven't been trained in the procedure you cannot do it during an emergency response.

In a more general approach to your question, paragraph (q)(6)(ii) defines what [operations] level personnel can and cannot do. I refer you to that paragraph of the standard and highlight the following points here.

All of the following general abilities of [operations] level personnel are premised on the fact that those personnel have received training on how to safely perform the following operations. [Operations] level personnel are trained to take defensive action. They can work to contain the release from a safe distance, i.e. not in the danger area. They can build dikes at a safe distance from the spill. They can wear personal protective equipment. They can decontaminate other emergency responders coming out of the danger area. They are part of the initial response to the site for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, property or the environment from the effects of the release.

[Operations] level personnel generally may not enter the danger area, take aggressive action to stop the release, or implement the employers emergency response plan.

Question 2a. Can a person, trained at the [operations] level, be used in the hot zone for any functions?

Trained at the [operations] level, no. Trained at the [operations] level plus specific training in a specific action the emergency responder will be required to perform in the hot zone, yes, assuming that procedure supports at least technician level emergency responders.

Question 2b. Does a person need to be trained at the technician level to do any part of the technician level's function? In other words, could a person be at [operations] level and trained to perform functions beyond operations?

Yes, however, emergency responders can only be required to perform those duties for which they have had previous training and have been informed they will be expected to perform during an emergency response.

Question 3. At what level should a person be trained to dike with soda ash or other chemicals?

Outside of the danger area, [operations] level, inside the danger area technician level.

Question 4. At what parts per million (ppm) level of exposure would you expect a person responding to an ammonia leak to use a level A suit?

Generally, we would expect emergency responders to respond in level A suits to unknown concentration levels and levels at or above one half the "Immediate Danger to Life and Health" (IDLH) level. The IDLH level for ammonia is 300 500 ppm and one half that level is 150 ppm 250 ppm. However, ammonia is an inhalation hazard at 1000 ppm and not a skin absorption hazard. Ammonia begins to effect moist skin at exposures greater than 10,000 ppm (1%) (mild irritation) and at concentrations greater than 30,000 ppm (3%) a stinging sensation is observed. Therefore, the general procedure of using level A equipment at 1/2 the IDLH may be unduly conservative for ammonia exposures. For ammonia, it may be more appropriate to respond in level A gear to exposures of 1/2 the threshold for skin irritation, or 5000 ppm.

Question 5. If you are to be trained to the technician level do you need to be trained to the awareness level, then have the added hours of [operations] level, then the added hours of technician?

The performance criteria and competencies for each level are additive. The training hour requirements are not.

We hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact us at [(202) 693-2190].


Patricia K. Clark, Director
[Directorate of Enforcement Programs]

[Corrected 1/17/03]

[NOTE: NIOSH modified the IDLH for ammonia to 300 ppm in 1994]