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.

June 29, 1992

Dr. Richard Andree
Executive Vice President
Safety and Health Management
Consultants, Inc.
161 William Street
New York, New York 10038

Dear Dr. Andree:

This is in further response to your letter of April 23, concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response final rule (HAZWOPER), 29 CFR 1910.120.

Your question concerns clarification on the definition of an emergency response.

The HAZWOPER standard was written to cover a wide array of facilities. Releases of hazardous substances may require differing emergency responses depending on the facility, knowledge of the employees in the immediate area, and the equipment at their disposal. However, there are certain parameters that OSHA has identified which clearly define releases of hazardous substances that can only be handled by emergency responders and a coordinated emergency response effort.

A release is covered by the HAZWOPER standard wherever conditions create an emergency. In other words, there need not be both an emergency and a response by outside responders. For example, a release of chlorine gas above the IDLH moving through a facility is an emergency situation even if the responders are from the immediate release area. Employees who would respond to this hypothetical situation, regardless of where they normally work, would need to act in accordance with 1910.120 paragraph (q).

Conversely, incidental releases of hazardous substances that are routinely cleaned up by those from outside the immediate release area need not be considered emergency responses solely because the employee responsible for cleaning it up comes from outside the immediate release area. For example, paint thinner is spilled in an art studio and the janitor is called from outside the immediate release area to mop it up. The janitor does not have to respond in accordance with HAZWOPER, although the janitor would be expected to understand the hazards associated with paint thinner through training required by the Hazard Communication Standard [(29 CFR 1910.1200)].

The HAZWOPER standard covers responses "by employees from outside the immediate release area or by other designated responders." The use of the "or" means that "responders" can be any persons so designated by the employer, including employees from within the immediate release area. Employees working in the area, not just outsiders, are covered if the employer expects those employees to perform emergency response operations for releases or substantial threats of releases of hazardous substances. HAZWOPER's paragraph (q) uses the term "responders" generally, which is interpreted to mean employees who respond to emergencies.

The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), which required OSHA to create and implement HAZWOPER, directs OSHA to protect all employees responding to emergencies without specifying their location. Section 126(d)(4) of SARA states, "standards shall set forth requirements for the training of workers who are responsible for responding to hazardous emergency situations who may be exposed to toxic substances in carrying out their responsibilities."

The HAZWOPER standard does not fully address releases of hazardous substances that are limited in quantity and pose no emergency or threat to the safety and health of workers in the immediate vicinity. This type of release is referred to as an "incidental release" in paragraph 1910.120(a)(3), where "emergency response" or "responding to emergencies" is defined. Training in accordance with 1910.120(q) is not required for these spills. In such situations other OSHA standards do cover employees, such as the Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200), standards for personal protective equipment [(1910 Subpart I)] or the Laboratory Standard (1910.1450).

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]

April 23, 1992

Ms. Dorothy Strunk
Acting Asst. Secretary
Occupational Safety & Health

Dear Admin. Strunk:

I would appreciate any interpretations OSHA may have made concerning the definition of "Emergency Response or Responding to Emergencies" as contained in 29 CFR 1910.120.

In particular, the issue of "responses to incidental releases of hazardous substances where the substance can...controlled at the time of release by employees in the immediate release area, or by maintenance personnel are not considered to be emergency responses within the scope of this standard."

In addition, I would like examples of releases of hazardous substances where there is no potential safety and health hazard (i.e., fire, explosion, or chemical exposure) [underlining added for emphasis].

Very truly yours,

Richard F. Andree, CSP, PE, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President


[Corrected 1/6/03]