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Spill Response: HAZWOPER or Hazard Communication Standard Training?

Posted on Thu, Sep 08, 2016

The costs associated with effective employee training, spill prevention, and spill response planning are often much less than the costs associated with fines, spill cleanup, and other civil liabilities. As a result, companies should not wait for a safety incident or regulatory inspections to ensure their emergency management programs are sufficient.

When hazardous materials are on site, employees must be trained to distinguish between incidental spills that can be handled in house and emergency spills that require evacuation and Hazmat team assistance. OSHA would prefer that all potentially exposed employees are trained to at least the awareness level. However, the properties of hazardous substances combined with the circumstances of a release  affects the applicable OSHA standards, the corresponding mandated employee training level, and the subsequent emergency procedures. 

Spills without emergency consequences are considered “Incidental Spills” and are covered by the Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). Under the specification of the Standard, employees who are trained on the hazards of the chemicals they are working with may safely clean up an incidental spill. An incidental spill can be described as:

  • Hazardous
  • Limited in quantity
  • Limited in exposure potential
  • Limited in Toxicity
  • NO or minor safety threat to employees or immediate vicinity
  • NO or minor health hazard to employees or immediate vicinity
  • NO or minor effects from cleanup process
  • NO potential to become an emergency within a short time frame.

“Emergency spills” are covered by the standard for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER). For the definition of "emergency response" to be satisfied under HAZWOPER, the release or situation must pose an emergency and may:

  • Cause high levels of exposures to toxic substances
  • Be life or injury threatening
  • Mandate personnel evacuation
  • Cause Immediately Dangerous To Life or Health (IDLH) conditions
  • Cause a fire and explosion hazard (exceeds or has potential to exceed 25% of the lower explosive limit (LEL)
  • Require immediate attention because of potential danger
  • Present an oxygen deficient condition


Where applicable, all employees involved in an emergency response must be trained under 29 CFR 1910.120.  HAZWOPER training can include:

  • General site workers: Individuals, such as equipment operators, general laborers and supervisory personnel, who are engaged in hazardous substance removal or other activities which expose or potentially expose workers to hazardous substances and health.
  • Operations crew: Individuals involved in hazardous wastes that are conducted at treatment, storage, and disposal facilities regulated by 40 CFR Parts 264 and 265 pursuant to RCRA; or by agencies under agreement with Environmental Protection Agency to implement RCRA regulations.
  • Emergency response operations team: Those directly involved in responding to the releases of, or substantial threats of releases of hazardous substances, regardless of the location of the hazard.

Numerous organizations have emergency response policies in place based on misinterpretation of the HAZWOPER regulations. The purpose of the initial responder (operations level) of an emergency is to protect life, property, or the environment from the effects of the release, not stop the release. Operational responders are trained to respond in a defensive fashion without actually trying to terminate the release. Their function is to contain the release from a safe distance, keep it from spreading, and prevent exposures.

There are various training levels within HAZWOPER. Training levels should reflect the type of work and the potential hazard involved in the work.

  • 24-hour HAZWOPER Training: Appropriate training for those who are less directly involved with uncontrolled hazardous waste sites (such as, but not limited to, ground water monitoring, land surveying, or geophysical surveying).
  • 40-hour HAZWOPER Training: Those individuals directly involved in the cleaning up of hazardous materials, its storage, or its transportation should take the 40-hour HAZWOPER course. The 40 hour course is required for the safety of workers at uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.
  • 8 hours HAZWOPER Training: Managers are required to attain the same level of training (either the 40-hour or 24-hour training) as those they supervise, and an additional 8 hours.

TRP Corp Emergency Response Planning Exercises

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