The United States of America carries strict laws to protect the safety of its denizens. One such law directly lays down guidelines for labor duties, especially for duties involving the collection of hazardous materials. The laws are prescribed and enforced by the United States Department of Labor.
The nature of materials to be classified as hazardous are defined by the United States government as:
- Any biological agent that may be anticipated to cause death, disease, behavioral abnormalities, cancer, genetic mutation, physiological malfunctions, physiological malfunctions in reproduction, physical deformations
- A chemical or pathogen which can cause acute or chronic health effects, such as, acute toxicity, aspiration toxicity, or simple asphyxiate.
The government issues guidelines for employers to provide a safety and health program that will serve as an emergency response. The said program will also extend, upon evaluation, certain benefits to the employees who are directly working in such hazardous conditions.
The government has outlined the types of employees the employers must include in the mandatory safety and health program. The types of employees who can benefit from free of cost medical examination and treatment have been defined thoroughly. Below are some of the criteria:
- Employees who have been or may be exposed to hazardous materials or health hazards regardless if they have been exposed to the established permissible exposure limit, and regardless if the employee has used respirators for 30 days or more, or not.
- Employees who have been using a respirator for 30 days or more
- Employees who get injured, fall ill, or display signs or symptoms due to overexposure to hazardous substances or health hazards
- All members of HAZMAT teams
The Hazardous Materials Response (HAZMAT) team has been defined as a group of employees who are assigned to deal with hazardous substances. Since the HAZMAT team will be assigned by an employer, be it a private contractor, or a fire department, they will be covered by the medical surveillance program that normal employees dealing with hazardous substances will do.
The frequency of medical examinations have also been defined. All the employees that have been defined above will have access to medical examinations and consultations:
- At least once every twelve months unless the physician attending the employee, in his professional capability, believes a longer period of interval is appropriate
- More frequently if the physician attending the employee believes the frequency of examination is needed
- If the physician attending the employee believes that additional examinations or consultations for the employee are needed
- After the termination of employment of the employee
- If the employee declares that he/she has developed signs or symptoms that indicate a possibility of being overexposed to hazardous material. In the said case, the treatment shall be provided immediately.
- If he/she has been involved in an accident while working in a hazardous environment. The employee will be granted treatment immediately.
Employers seeking to acquire services of employees where the assigned task will revolve around the controlling, collecting, preventing potential leaks, and disposing of hazardous substances, will have to comply with the rules. If an employee or a team working under contract meets with an accident and/or has been physically impaired in any way due to the hazardous nature of the job, it will fall on the employer as a failure to responsibly provide medical treatment or examination.
Alongside providing the employee a written safety and health program and medical assistance, the employer shall also provide an organizational structure and a work plan to go by.
Similarly, employees who are to be assigned to hazardous waste operations and emergency response, have to go through a training program. The Hazwoper 40-hour program is designed to give workers 40 hours of initial training followed by at least three days of supervised field training on-site by an experienced supervisor.
In other cases, employees will go through an at least 24-hour program and at least one day of field training under the supervision of an experienced supervisor. This is only applicable where the employees are working on a specific limited task and where the duties do not present a possibility of being overexposed to permissible levels of exposure to hazardous substances.
There are programs out there that provide the Hazwoper 40 training and comply requirements set by the United States Department of Labor. Such programs help get more knowledge on the guidelines and requirements and allow employers and employees to work in a safe environment.