Triple Play

Hazmat handlers need more than just HazCom training. Incorporating required elements from OSHA, EPA, and DOT works well.

Teaching employees how to protect themselves from workplace hazards is a key compliance focus of OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, but it's not the only regulation that requires employers to provide their employees with training about hazardous materials. EPA and DOT also require employees to be trained to handle hazardous materials properly and to be prepared to respond to spills and other emergencies involving those materials.

Because OSHA, EPA, and DOT all require training for persons handling hazardous materials, it is not difficult -- and sometimes makes sense -- to incorporate the requirements of all three into a single training program that will help affected employees understand not only the properties of hazardous products on site, but also how they need to handle, store, manage, and respond to releases of those products safely, no matter where they are located in the facility or at what point the chemicals are in their life cycle at the facility.

The HazCom Standard, sometimes called the "Employee Right to Know" Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200), requires, among other things, that employers have a written program that details the chemical and physical hazards present at a facility, and that they have a training program to teach employees about those hazards and what they can do to protect themselves properly.

For workers who are involved with emergency response to spills outside their normal work area, site cleanup workers, and operators in permitted Transportation, Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs), OSHA also requires training under the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Standard (29 CFR 1910.120.) This regulation specifies the levels of training for various types of workers, as well as the competencies associated with each level of training. Annual, documented refresher training is required to demonstrate continued competency with the standard.

Naturally, because these are both OSHA standards, the main focus of both standards is ensuring worker safety. However, by incorporating the proper handling techniques required by EPA and the awareness and safety training required by DOT, maintaining or enhancing worker safety programs can be more fully achieved.

Where OSHA focuses on minimizing and preventing worker exposure to hazardous materials, EPA is more focused on protecting the public from hazards that enter the air, ground, and/or water when they are discharged, spilled, or otherwise released from facilities.

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), EPA uses the term "hazardous" to describe solid wastes that have certain properties posing a threat to human health or the environment, with some wastes being specifically listed as "hazardous" and others having at least one of four characteristics that pose a health and/or environmental threat (40 CFR 261.)

Waste generators are responsible for making a hazardous waste determination each time a non-exempted solid waste is generated. When hazards are found, generators must handle, store, and manage those wastes properly until they are shipped for recycling or disposal. Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) of hazardous waste and TSDFs are required to train personnel handling hazardous wastes to do so in accordance with the facility's procedures and practices to minimize releases and exposure (40 CFR 262.34.) After initial training, refresher trainings must be held annually, and be documented, to help ensure continued compliance (40 CFR 265.16.)

Employees handling hazardous materials must be taught to "perform their duties in a way that ensures the facility's compliance with" applicable regulations [40 CFR 265.16(a)(2)]. EPA further states that training "must include instruction which teaches . . . waste management procedures . . . relevant to the positions in which they are employed" [40 CFR 265.16(a)(2)].

Because the standards are performance based, EPA does not specify the details of a training program. Instruction on how to properly mark and label containers, waste segregation procedures, containment, and any special handling requirement are among the topics that may be covered in training.

In addition to having a written training plan, LQGs and TSDFs are also required to have a written inspection schedule and a written Contingency Plan that addresses how the facility will respond to releases of hazardous wastes. Employees who respond to releases should be trained to know the contents of the Contingency Plan, how to protect themselves, what actions to take, what resources are available to them, and how to interact with outside resources that may be called to assist them in response efforts.

Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) of hazardous wastes are not required to have a written Contingency Plan, but they must have adequate resources to handle emergencies and must "ensure that all employees are thoroughly familiar with proper waste handling and emergency procedures relevant to their responsibilities" [40 CFR 262.34(d)(5)(iii)]. If an SGQ exceeds the waste threshold limit and becomes a fully regulated generator in any given month, it must comply with fully regulated generators' rules immediately.

Facilities that handle used oil under the Used Oil Standard (40 CFR 279) and those that are small handlers of Universal Wastes (40 CFR 273) are exempt from some planning and handling requirements, but they still must inform employees about proper handling procedures and responding to releases.

According the most recent commodity flow survey, more than 2.2 billion tons of hazardous materials are transported each year by road, rail, water, and air in the United States. In addition to the carriers who transport these hazardous materials, anyone who "directly affects hazardous materials transportation safety" is considered to be a "hazmat employee" by DOT's definition (49 CFR 171.8.). This means that employees who load, unload, and handle hazardous materials; those who manufacture or qualify a container for hazardous materials shipment; anyone who prepares hazardous materials for transport; and those who are responsible for hazardous materials safety during transport are all "hazmat employees."

DOT requires all hazmat employees to be trained within 90 days after their initial employment or any time there is a change in job function (49 CFR 172.700) and to be retrained -- not just updated or refreshed -- at least once every three years [49 CFR 172.704(c)(2)]. As with many other trainings, testing and documentation of training must be kept on file.

Unlike EPA, no exemptions are provided for small businesses or "occasional shippers." Even a self-employed person who offers a one-time shipment of hazardous materials is subject to the training requirements. They can, however, self-train and certify, and the scope of training may be smaller than it would be for someone transporting a wide variety of hazardous materials daily using several modes of transport.

Specific levels of training vary by job function, but DOT does require certain topics to be covered for all hazmat employees, including general awareness training, safety training, and security training, among others (49 CFR 172.702.).

By requiring this training, hazmat employees can gain a better understanding of DOT's hazmat transportation program, safe handling techniques, emergency response procedures, and other responsibilities to help ensure that hazmats will not pose an undue risk during shipment.

Incorporating the required training elements from OSHA, EPA, and DOT into one training program can simplify training and recordkeeping efforts while providing employees with a more holistic understanding of why and how handling materials safely is important.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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