HAZWOPER Training & Certification Guide

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Each year, we produce over 400 million tons of hazardous waste in the U.S. Thankfully, workers all over the country keep the general public safe by properly storing, treating, and disposing of the stuff.

To keep them safe, we have regulations and training. With input from several other agencies, OSHA built on existing regulations to create the HAZardous Waste OPerations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard in 1990 under 29 CFR 1910.120.

However, if you need HAZWOPER training, you might be unsure what to take and where—the rules can be incredibly confusing. But don’t worry, that’s exactly what we are going to cover in this Beginners Guide to HAZWOPER Training.

Who Needs to Take HAZWOPER Training?

The first question you might ask is, “Who exactly needs HAZWOPER training?” And that’s a great question. According to OSHA, HAZWOPER training is designed for workers (and their supervisors) who face any of the following hazardous work conditions:

  • High concentrations of toxic substances
  • Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) environments
  • Conditions that pose a fire or explosion hazard
  • Oxygen-deficient atmospheres

More specifically, the regulations apply to three relatively narrow job profiles.

  1. Emergency Responders
  2. Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste Site Operators
  3. Treatment, Storage, and Disposal (TSDF) Personnel
  Job Location Threat Protected Under Examples
Emergency Responders Containing, controlling, and stabilizing an emergency involving hazardous materials
  • An accidental release of hazardous substances OR
  • A site with the serious threat of such a release
  • Until the situation is stabilized
Nature and extent unknown 1910.120(q)
  • Local fire departments responding to chemical fires or overturned HazMat trucks
  • Facility workers responding to leaking storage or an uncontrolled spill
  • Railroad emergency response teams dealing with a ruptured tank car
Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste Site Operators Cleanup and remediation

Uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, which:

  • Are identified as such by federal, state, or local governments
  • Have an accumulation of hazardous substances that create a threat to the health and safety of individuals, the environment, or both (1910.120(a)(3))
  • Include stabilized emergency sites AND older sites where potential contamination has been discovered
Identity and concentration are often unknown (site still being characterized) 1910.120(b)-(o) Workers at Superfund sites, Brownfield sites, or abandoned industrial sites
Treatment, Storage, and Disposal (TSDF) Personnel Handling waste during treatment, storage, and disposal

TSD facilities regulated under RCRA, which are:

  • Controlled waste facilities processing waste from uncontrolled sites
  • Built and permitted to receive, treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste
Identity and concentration are known 1910.120(p)
  • Workers treating hazardous waste before disposal
  • Workers handling waste at an RCRA landfill

Who Doesn’t Need HAZWOPER Training?

If you don’t fit into one of those three categories (or supervise people who do), HAZWOPER training wasn’t designed for you.

Even if an operation falls under HAZWOPER’s scope, employees who work near a characterized contaminated zone but never enter it may be exempt from training requirements (think: security guard). Employers need to demonstrate that their exposure isn’t a “reasonable possibility,” though.

Often, employers like hospitals put employees who might encounter hazardous waste through HAZWOPER training just to be cautious.  But OSHA supports competency-based training specific to their exposure risk instead.

3 Different HAZWOPER Courses

Now that you know who needs training, and if that’s you, the next question is, “Which course do you need?” Well, the training you need is based on the degree of exposure you'll experience.

There are three different HAZWOPER courses:

  1. 40-Hour
  2. 24-Hour
  3. 8-Hour

Each one addresses a different level of exposure or meets a different requirement, which we will review below.

1. 40-Hour HAZWOPER Training

The 40-Hour HAZWOPER course is the required initial training for workers with the highest risk. This level requires 40 instructional hours, followed by three days of directly supervised fieldwork.

You’ll need this course if you:

  • Work with and clean up hazardous materials regularly
  • Are involved in the storage and treatment of hazardous substances
  • Have exposure at or above PELs
  • Work in environments where they need respirators and other PPEs for more than 30 days a year
  • Supervise employees who do any of the above

2. 24-Hour HAZWOPER Training

The 24-Hour HAZWOPER course is the initial training for workers who will have minimal contact with hazardous materials.

You will need this course if you will:

  • Come into contact with hazardous materials occasionally but not be directly be involved in the cleanup
  • Work at contaminated sites with exposure below Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)
  • Carry out remediation at fully characterized sites where they'll need respirators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for less than 30 days a year
  • Supervise employees who do any of the above, but not employees that need the 40-Hour course

3. 8-Hour HAZWOPER Training

The 8-Hour HAZWOPER course is a refresher for both 40-Hour and 24-Hour courses that employees need once a year.

This course doesn't necessarily need to be completed in a short timeframe. Topics can be divided up throughout the year as long as all hours are complete before your anniversary.

If more than a year lapses without a complete refresher course, you may need to repeat your initial course. OSHA has written a letter of interpretation putting that decision in the employer's hands. If employers think a lapsed employee has the necessary skills to do their job safely, they can take refresher training. If not, they should repeat the initial course. OSHA says that the decision can't be made by the employee or the trainer, only the employer.

What Topics are Covered?

  • Overview of Regulations
  • Site Characterization
  • Toxicology
  • Hazard Recognition
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Decontamination
  • Medical Surveillance
  • Confined Spaces
  • Emergency Procedures

Bottom Line

Effective HAZWOPER training is critical to the safety and well-being of emergency responders, uncontrolled site operators, and TSDF personnel. Now that you've figured out which level of training you need, the next step is finding a trustworthy training provider.

We have over 20 years of experience as an OSHA-authorized training provider, and we offer 40-Hour, 24-Hour, and 8-Hour HAZWOPER courses to satisfy the bulk of your HAZWOPER training needs. You can register for online instruction today and knock out the long hours of "book learning" in comfort.

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