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.

November 19, 1991

Michael E. Ramer, C.I.H.
Supervisor, Environmental Health Programs
Public Service Company of Colorado
Anaconda Tower
Suite 1200
555 17th Street
Denver, Colorado 80202

Dear Mr. Ramer:

This is in response to your inquiry of June 14, concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response final rule (29 CFR 1910.120). The following is offered to clarify the issues that you raised. Please accept my apology for the delay of this response.

Operations which involve a potential for employee exposure to hazardous substances, including hazardous waste, as specified by 1910.120 are covered. For a site to be covered by this rule employees must be engaged in one of the following operations:



  1. Hazardous substance response operations under CERCLA, including any initial investigations of the site prior to identification of exposures.
  2. Corrective actions involving cleanup conducted under RCRA.
  3. Operations at a State or local government designated site.
  4. Operations involving storage, treatment, and disposal facilities regulated by 40 CFR 264 and 265 pursuant to RCRA.
  5. Emergency response operations regardless of location when there has been a release or substantial threat of release of hazardous substances.

We will answer your questions in the order in which they were asked;

1. Do the operations and maintenance activities of Public Service Company Equipment on an uncontrolled hazardous waste site fall into the Scope and Application of the 1910.120 standard?

Your question specifically addressed uncontrolled sites. If the site had not been characterized you would be responsible for conducting an initial characterization of the site in order to anticipate hazards before commencing with the maintenance activity. The characterization would have to be of sufficient detail to adequately characterize the safety and health hazards that would result from the specific operations in which your employees would be involved.

1a. When we conduct intrusive soil work?

This activity would fall under the scope of 1910.120 where hazards have been identified.

1b. When we inspect overhead or underground equipment not involving intrusive soil work?

In general, the standard applies to all operations described in the scope, 1910.120(a), and as described above, unless the employer can demonstrate that the operation does not involve employee exposure, or reasonable likelihood of exposure to safety and/or health hazards. Thus, if potential for exposure is extremely unlikely the standard would not apply.

1c. When we enter upon a site to read an electric or gas meter?

Please refer to the answer in question 1b. In this specific case, depending on the site, meter reading may be an instance where lack of exposure could be demonstrated.

2. The scope and application paragraph (a) exempts applicability to the standard if the employer can demonstrate no employee exposure. What is the definition of exposure?

The term exposure as used in the scope of this standard has the same definition as in the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, which defines it as follows:



["Exposure or exposed" means that an employee is subjected in the course of employment to a chemical that is a physical or health hazard, that includes potential (e.g., accidental or possible) exposure. "Subjected" in terms of health hazards includes any route of entry (e.g., inhalation, ingestion, skin contact or absorption).]

[Correction 1/17/03]

2a. If no exposure exists, does this mean exemption from the entire standard or just parts of the standard?

This depends on the status of the site characterization effort. If the site has not yet been characterized then all of the appropriate 1910.120 requirements would apply, including training requirements. If the site has been characterized and no exposure or potential exposure exists, any further activity on site would fall outside the scope of the standard and the employer would not be required to meet any of the provisions of the standard and training may not be required.

It is the responsibility of the employer to insure adequate site characterization. The information to be gathered is set forth in 1910.120(c). As a result of this process, employers are able to designate contaminated (hot zones) and uncontaminated areas (low hazard areas where no special personal protective equipment is necessary). Employers must have ongoing site characterization programs in case site activities or conditions change.

Thus, anyone who enters a hazardous waste site must recognize and understand any potential hazards to health and safety associated with the cleanup activity. The level of training provided must be consistent with the worker's job functions and responsibilities, the toxicity of the materials, the levels of exposure and the potential for an emergency to develop. 1910.120, along with other OSHA standards, insure this training.

3. The training paragraph (e) changes wording not used or defined anywhere in the standard and uses "working on site" instead of performing cleanup, corrective actions, orvoluntary cleanup activities. What is the definition of "working on site"?

All employees who work on a hazardous waste site, which is covered by 29 CFR 1910.120, require training. Paragraph (e) recognizes that the risk of exposure to safety and health hazards exists in varying degrees. Your inquiry does not give sufficient details for a more specific response, however, it appears that the jobs you listed would typically fall under paragraph (e)(3)(ii). This subsection is for workers on site only occasionally, for a specific and limited task (as opposed to on site daily). In which case, the standard requires a minimum of 24 hours of off site training, and 8 hours of on-the-job training. The standard anticipates that this category of workers would not be exposed to chemicals above the permissible exposure limits (PELs), and would not be wearing respiratory protection.

3a. Would training be required for employees performing intrusive soil activity on a defined site if the goal was to operate or maintain company owned equipment, in other words, non-cleanup activities?

Yes, employees working on uncontrolled hazardous waste sites are covered whether the work they do is cleanup or non cleanup activity. However, employees are not covered if they work exclusively within uncontaminated areas of the hazardous waste site and are not exposed to health or safety hazards related to hazardous waste operations.

3b. Would training be required for employees performing overhead or underground equipment inspections?

Please refer to the answer to question 1b.

3c. Would training be required for employees who read electric or gas metering equipment?

Please refer to the answer to question 1b.

We hope that we have been able to clarify these issues for you. If you have any other questions please don't hesitate to contact [the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190].


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