The intent of the OSHA’s HAZWOPER standard (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response ) is to protect workers engaged in "Emergency response operations for releases of, or substantial threats of releases of, hazardous substances without regard to the location of the hazard." (29 CFR 1910.120(a)(1)(v)). Employees who may be exposed to or respond to hazardous material emergencies are required by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to have specific HAZWOPER training.
There are various OSHA training levels of HAZWOPER that are commensurate with the type of work and the potential involvement with hazardous materials. The HAZMAT technician and the HAZMAT specialist are to have significant knowledge of HAZMAT situations and can assist the incident commander in response assessments. Both the technician and specialist levels are required to initially complete, at a minimum, the 24-hour training HAZWOPER training. However, technician level responders vastly outnumber specialist level responders, and are the most frequent personnel in handling HAZMAT incidents.
Trained HAZMAT technicians are individuals who respond to releases or potential releases for the purpose of stopping the release. These individuals assume a more aggressive role than an operational level first responder in that they are trained to approach the point of release in order to plug, patch, or otherwise stop the release of a hazardous substance. HAZMAT technicians may not be classified as scientific experts; however, most have an understanding of chemistry that may range from basic to advanced.
The HAZMAT technicians must demonstrate competency in the following areas:
- Implementation of the employer's emergency response plan.
- Classification, identification and verification of known and unknown materials through the use of specialized equipment.
- Functioning within an assigned role in the Incident Command System.
- Selecting and using proper specialized chemical personal protective equipment provided to the hazardous materials technician.
- Hazard and risk assessment techniques.
- Performing advanced control, containment, and/or confinement operations within the capabilities of the resources and personal protective equipment available with the unit.
- Understanding and implementing decontamination procedures.
- Understanding termination procedures.
- Understanding basic chemical and toxicological terminology and behavior.
On average, HAZMAT technicians complete 40-hours of training. Certified technicians new to a site must receive appropriate, site-specific training before site entry and have appropriate supervised field experience at the new site. Equivalent training includes any academic training or the training that existing employees might have already received from actual hazardous waste site experience.
The HAZMAT specialist receives the highest level of HAZWOPER training. The specialist typically responds with and supports the duties of hazardous materials technicians. These individuals’ duties parallel those of the technician; yet require a greater knowledge of the various substances they may be called to contain. HAZMAT specialists often act as a site liaison with Federal, State, Local and other government authorities in regards to site activities.
The HAZMAT specialist must demonstrate competency in the following areas:
- Implementation of their employer’s emergency response plan.
- Classification, identification and verification of known and unknown materials by using advanced survey instruments and equipment.
- Knowledge of the state emergency response plan.
- Selecting and using proper specialized chemical personal protective equipment provided to the hazardous materials specialist.
- Detailed hazard and risk assessment techniques.
- Performing specialized control, containment, and/or confinement operations within the capabilities of the resources and personal protective equipment available.
- Implementing decontamination procedures.
- Developing a site safety and control plan.
- Understanding chemical, radiological and toxicological terminology and behavior.
The Specialist responder typically has an in-depth and highly advanced level of knowledge in chemistry, biology or some other discipline of science. According to FEMA the HAZMAT specialist is responsible for:
- Providing ongoing monitoring of local environmental conditions during operations.
- Providing an initial and ongoing survey for presence of hazardous materials at search and rescue sites.
- Implementing defensive mitigation practices when indicated.
- Directing emergency decontamination procedures for any task force member or victim.·
- Providing assistance to medical personnel for chemical exposure and injuries.
- Documenting all related information.
- Adhering to all safety procedures.
- Accountability, maintenance, and minor repairs for all issued equipment.
- Performing additional tasks or duties as assigned during a mission.
- Ensuring MSDS are provided for all hazardous materials carried or used by the task force.
- Ensuring all specialized equipment is maintained and calibrated according to the manufacturers’ specifications.
Although HAZMAT specialists are required to initially pass the 24-hour HAZWOPER training, most specialists have completed university-level courses. A HAZMAT specialist often holds a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, chemistry, biology, or other science related field. It is not uncommon for a specialist level responder to have an advanced degree.