OSHA Clarifies HAZWOPER Training Rule: Video Alone Does Not Cut It

On July 2, 2008, National Environmental Trainers Inc. of Martinez, Ga., received a letter from OSHA's Enforcement Programs Directorate requesting that the company "correct the misleading and inaccurate information on your website" regarding an on-line, interactive 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training program. The letter, signed by OSHA's Richard E. Fairfax, said in part, "If a customer of yours were to follow your counterstatements or use your 'HAZWOPER Hands-on Simulator®,' as part of their training program, the customer would not be in compliance with our standard" (29 CFR 1910.120). In a follow-up letter written Feb. 4, 2009, and posted to the agency's Web site April 7, OSHA removed that sentence and said it "no longer reflects current OSHA policy."

The emphasis of OSHA's follow-up letter of interpretation is that interactive and video training programs such as the company's HAZWOPER Hands-on Simulator are perfectly acceptable tools when used as part of an employer's overall HAZWOPER training program; they just can't be used as the total program because physical manipulation of actual components of PPE (as opposed to virtual components of PPE) must be part of the training.

"[A]n employer may not rely solely on the use of an interactive or video training program to be in compliance with the 40- or 24-hour HAZWOPER training requirements," Fairfax wrote in the follow-up letter. "As was stated in our July 2 letter, 'OSHA expects, as part of the 40-hour (or 24-hour) training requirement, that a trainee be able to don, doff, touch, feel, and otherwise manipulate a particular piece of personal protective equipment that an employer of a specific site may require or provide to protect their employees to prevent injury or illness.' Therefore, if the 'HAZWOPER Hands-on Simulator®' is used as part of an employer's overall 40 or 24-hour HAZWOPER training program, in addition to ensuring that the trainee don, doff, and otherwise manipulate the particular piece(s) of personal protective equipment being used at a specific site, its use would be acceptable."

Clay Bednarz, president and founder of National Environmental Trainers, said OSHA's original letter was the result of the agency not understanding how his company's program was being used in training. "There was a lot of confusion at first," Bednarz said. "They thought that we were just offering it as a standalone program, but that was never the case. After we talked to them and told them all about it, there is no issue anymore. . . . We are glad that they reversed their position."

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