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Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents
• Standard Number: 1910.120; 1910.120(q); 1910.120(q)(6)

March 14, 2007

Mr. Robert Minter
Fire and Emergency Service Instructor I
388 Green Hill Lane
Wallingford, Vermont 05773

Dear Mr. Minter,

Thank you for your November 20, 2006 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Directorate of Enforcement Programs (DEP), regarding training required by the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard, 29 CFR 1910.120. Your specific question relates to whether firefighters trained to the awareness level can respond to hazardous substance releases. We have paraphrased your issue below, followed by your question and our response. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not delineated within your original correspondence.

Background: The Wallingford Volunteer Fire Department responds to many known materials/hazardous waste incidents. Some involved responding to gasoline spills (usually less than 5 gallons), diesel fuel spills exceeding 15 gallons, leaking fluids from motor vehicle accidents, [and] leaking 500-gallon propane tanks.

Question: Can fire departments respond to known hazardous materials or hazardous waste incidents when personnel are only trained to the hazmat awareness level?

Response: No. If a fire department receives an emergency call reporting a suspected release of a hazardous substance that is potentially beyond an "incidental release," it would be considered sufficient information to warrant an emergency response. In these cases, fire departments should not knowingly dispatch an "awareness level" fire fighter to respond to a hazardous substance emergency response. 29 CFR 1910.120(q)(6)(i) of the HAZWOPER standard states, "First responders at the awareness level are individuals who are likely to witness or discover a hazardous substance release and who have been trained to initiate an emergency response sequence by notifying the proper authorities of the release. They would take no further action beyond notifying the authorities of the release." Thus, fire fighters who respond to emergency releases or potential emergency releases of hazardous substances must be trained to at least the first responder operations level. Training requirements for all classifications of emergency responders are based on the "duties and functions to be performed by each responder" and are found at 29 CFR 1910.120(q)(6)(i)-(v).

Further, 29 CFR 1910.120(q) covers emergency response operations for releases of, or substantial threats of releases of, hazardous substances without regard to the location of the hazard. However, responses to releases of hazardous substances where there is no potential safety or health hazard are not considered to be emergency responses. "Incidental releases" of hazardous substances where the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of the release, are not considered to be emergency responses within the scope of the standard. Appendix E of OSHA Directive CPL 02-02-059 [formerly CPL 2-2.59A] - Inspection Procedures for the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER), 29 CFR 1910.120 and 1926.65, Paragraph (q): Emergency Response to Hazardous Substance Releaseof (copy enclosed) provides a more thorough discussion of the distinction between incidental releases of hazardous substances and releases that require an emergency response, and hence, compliance with the provisions of 1910.120(q).

As you are aware, the Vermont Department of Labor administers an OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health program for both private and public sector employers and employees in Vermont. State plans are required to implement regulations that are "at least as effective" as the federal standards. For specific Vermont OSHA requirements, we recommend that you contact the Vermont Division of Occupational Safety and Health:
Vermont Department of Labor
Division of Occupational Safety and Health
National Life Building, Drawer 20
National Life Drive
Montpelier, Vermont 05602-3401
Telephone: (802) 828-2765
Fax: (802) 828-2748
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. 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.


Richard E. Fairfax
Directorate of Enforcement Programs

Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents

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