Can Hazmat Employees Be Supervised Over a Video Call?

Posted on 4/17/2023 by Lion Technology Inc.

A safety professional at a US university contacted PHMSA last month to ask for guidance about the hazmat employee training requirements in 49 CFR 172.704.

Some of the university's employees pack and ship hazardous materials as part of their fieldwork. These employees work in remote locations, however, and lack the hazmat training required to comply with the regulations. The person asking for PHMSA's opinion floated a potential solution, asking (paraphrased):

Can an employer use video-call technology to supervise and instruct untrained employees who perform hazardous materials job functions at remote locations?

Can Hazmat Employees Be Supervised Over a Video Call?

In a letter of interpretation responding, PHMSA makes it clear that training for hazmat employees is a non-negotiable element of compliance with the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). The letter stresses, more than once, that all hazmat employees must be trained within 90 days of hire or job assignment.

The 49 CFR training rules allow untrained employees to perform pre-transportation hazmat job functions under specific conditions: 

  • First, the new hazmat employee must work under "direct supervision" of a properly trained, knowledgeable employee.
  • Second, the new hazmat employee must be trained within 90 days

[49 CFR 172.704(c)(1)]

The HMR also requires complete re-training (or "recurrent training") for hazmat employees every three years [49 CFR 172.704(c)(2)].

In this specific scenario, PHMSA writes, it seems that the employees will not receive hazmat training within the mandated 90-day period. Because hazmat training will not be provided, these employees may not perform regulated hazmat shipping functions, even if they are supervised directly.

What about video-call supervision?

PHMSA does not shut the door on the idea of an employer using a video feed to perform direct supervision of a hazmat employee. From the March 23 letter of interpretation:

 " is the opinion of this Office that the untrained person may perform the function under direct supervision via video call provided the following are satisfied: 

  • the supervising hazmat employee is able to instruct the employee on how to properly perform the hazmat function, 

  • the supervising hazmat employee is able to observe the employee's performance of the function, 

  • the supervising hazmat employee is able to take immediate corrective action regarding any function not performed in conformance with the HMR, and 

  • the untrained employee completes hazmat training within 90 days of performing the job function. " 

US DOT/PHMSA. Letter No. 22-0025 to Nic Englehart (3/23/23)  (Emphasis Lion's)

US DOT regulations require hazmat training without exception for employees who can affect the safety of hazardous materials in transportation, including those who work with hazmat infrequently, who handle very small amounts, or who follow written instructions.

PHMSA makes it clear here that a lack of training is what makes the scenario in question unacceptable, not necessarily the video-call element.

hazmat employee and shipping papers

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