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Is HAZWOPER Training Required to Clean Up a Chemical Spill?

Posted on 8/9/2021 by Roseanne Bottone

OSHA requires HAZWOPER training for employees who encounter and/or respond to emergency hazardous substance releases.

Recognizing incidents that are “emergency releases” subject to the HAZWOPER Standard in 29 CFR 1910.120 will help employers effectively train and prepare employees who respond to emergencies and/or clean up incidental spills involving hazardous chemicals.   

Knowing what kind of workplace incidents are not covered by the HAZWOPER Standard will help ensure that incidental spills are cleaned up quickly and, more importantly, safely. 

What Is an Emergency Response Under HAZWOPER?

Emergency response means a response effort by employees from outside the immediate release area or by other designated responders (i.e., mutual-aid groups, local fire departments, etc.) to an occurrence which results, or is likely to result, in an uncontrolled release of a hazardous substance.

(29 CFR 1910.120(a)(3))

OSHA outlined several types of scenarios that are likely to be considered emergency situations in a letter of interpretation:
  • The presence of high concentrations of toxic substances
  • A situation that is life- or injury-threatening
  • Imminent Danger to Life and Health (IDLH) environments
  • An oxygen deficient atmosphere
  • Conditions that pose a fire or explosion hazard
  • An event that requires an evacuation of the area
  • Any situation that requires immediate attention because of the danger posed to employees in the area
OSHA does not define an emergency in terms of the amount of spilled or otherwise released material.

What is Not An Emergency? 

Not every chemical spill is an emergency release. The HAZWOPER Standard does not cover clean-up of certain “incidental releases.” 

As OSHA puts it, Responding to incidental releases of hazardous substances where the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise 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 other words, the HAZWOPER Standard typically does not apply to an employee who knocks over a small bottle and immediately cleans it up, or a custodian who cleans up a small, routine spill. 

Still, OSHA requires safety training for employees who work with, handle, or may be exposed to hazardous chemicals—Hazard Communication training and training on proper PPE use, for example. Not just anyone who notices a small spill on the floor can wipe it up—spills should be handled by employees who are equipped with appropriate PPE and are knowledgeable about the chemical’s properties and hazards.  

New! 24 Hour HAZWOPER Online Training

Under its Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Standard in 29 CFR 1910.120, OSHA requires training for every level of emergency responder—from the awareness level to the incident commander.

Read more: Who Really Needs HAZWOPER Training?

Lion’s newest online course provides 24 hours of HAZWOPER training required by OSHA for employees who will respond to releases of hazardous substances in the role of hazardous materials technician.

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Tags: chemicals, emergency response, HAZWOPER, OSHA training, safety training

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