HAZMAT Responder Fitness for Duty

Determination of Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) Responder Fitness for Duty

Responders at hazardous materials (HAZMAT) or HAZWOPER sites are often required to perform strenuous tasks (e.g., moving 55-gallon drums) and wear personal protective equipment, such as respirators and protective clothing, that may cause heat stress and other problems. To ensure that prospective employees are able to meet work requirements, the pre-employment screening should focus on the following areas:

Occupational and Medical History

• Make sure the worker fills out an occupational and medical history questionnaire. Review the questionnaire before seeing the worker. In the examining room, discuss the questionnaire with the worker, paying special attention to prior occupational exposures to chemical and physical hazards.

• Review past illnesses and chronic diseases, particularly atopic diseases such as eczema and asthma, lung diseases, and cardiovascular disease.

• Review symptoms, especially shortness of breath or labored breathing on exertion, other chronic respiratory symptoms, chest pain, high blood pressure, and heat intolerance.

• Identify individuals who are vulnerable to particular substances (e.g., someone with a history of severe asthmatic reaction to a specific chemical).

• Record relevant lifestyle habits (e.g., cigarette smoking, alcohol and drug use) and hobbies.

physically fit for HAZWOPER work

Physical Examination

• Conduct a comprehensive physical examination of all body organs, focussing on the pulmonary, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems.

• Note conditions that could increase susceptibility to heat stroke, such as obesity and lack of physical exercise.

• Note conditions that could affect respirator use, such as missing or arthritic fingers, facial scars, dentures, poor eyesight, or perforated ear drums.

Ability to Perform HAZMAT Work While Wearing Protective Equipment

• Disqualify individuals who are clearly unable to perform based on the medical history and physical exam (e.g., those with severe lung disease, heart disease, or back or orthopedic problems).

• Note limitations concerning the worker's ability to use protective equipment (e.g., individuals who must wear contact lenses cannot wear full-face piece respirators).

• Provide additional testing (e.g., chest X-ray, pulmonary function testing, electrocardiogram) for ability to wear protective equipment where necessary.

• Base the determination on the individual worker's profile (e.g., medical history and physical exam, age, previous exposures and testing).

• Make a written assessment of the worker's capacity to perform while wearing a respirator, if wearing a respirator is a job requirement. Note that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) HAZWOPER respirator standard (29 CFR Part 1910.134) states that no employee should be assigned to a task that requires the use of a respirator unless it has been determined that the person is physically able to perform under such conditions.

Baseline Data for Future HAZMAT Responder Exposures

Pre-employment screening can be used to establish baseline data to subsequently verify the efficacy of protective assures and to later determine if exposures have adversely affected the worker. Baseline testing may include both medical screening tests and biologic monitoring tests. The latter (e.g., blood lead level) may be useful for ascertaining pre-exposure levels of specific substances to which the worker may be exposed and for which reliable tests are available.

HAZMAT Responder PPE Procedures

A routine should be established and practiced periodically for donning a fully-encapsulating suit/SCBA ensemble. Assistance should be provided for donning and doffing since these operations are difficult to perform alone, and solo efforts may increase the possibility of suit damage. Procedures for donning a fully encapsulating suit/SCBA ensemble must be written. These procedures should be modified depending on the particular type of suit and/or when extra gloves and/or boots are used. Once the equipment has been donned, its fit should be evaluated. If the clothing is too small, it will restrict movement, thereby increasing the likelihood of tearing the suit material and accelerating worker fatigue. If the clothing is too large, the possibility of snagging the material is increased, and the dexterity and coordination of the worker may be compromised. In either case, the worker should be recalled and better fitting clothing provided.

Respirator Fit Testing The "fit" or integrity of the facepiece-to-face seal of a respirator affects its performance. A secure fit is important with positive-pressure equipment, and is essential to the safe functioning of negative-pressure equipment, such as most air-purifying respirators. Most facepieces fit only a certain percentage of the population; thus each facepiece must be tested on the potential wearer in order to ensure a tight seal. Facial features such as scars, hollow temples, very prominent cheekbones, deep skin creases, dentures or missing teeth, and the chewing of gum and tobacco may interfere with the respirator-to-face seal. A respirator shall not be worn when such conditions prevent a good seal. The workers' diligence in observing these factors shall be evaluated by periodic checks. For a qualitative respirator fit testing protocol, see Appendix D of the OSHA lead standard (29 CFR Part 1910.1025). For quantitative fit testing, see the NIOSH publication A Guide to Industrial Respiratory Protection. For specific quantitative testing protocols, literature supplied by manufacturers of quantitative fit test equipment should be consulted. Note that certain OSHA standards require quantitative fit testing under specific circumstances. The HAZMAT Responder course discusses all of the concepts of response, safety, hazard and risk assessment, and actions that can be taken by those with this level of certification. Some jobs that frequently require this training are Police Officer, Firefighter, Paramedic, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Public Works employee, or facility Emergency Response Team members.


The degree to which a worker's body has physiologically adjusted or acclimatized to working under hot conditions affects his or her ability to do work. Acclimatized individuals generally have lower heart rates and body temperatures than unacclimatized individuals, and sweat sooner and more profusely. This enables them to maintain lower skin and body temperatures at a given level of environmental heat and work loads than unacclimatized workers. Sweat composition also becomes more dilute with acclimatization, which reduces salt loss. Acclimatization can occur after just a few days of exposure to a hot environment. NIOSH recommends a progressive 6-day acclimatization period for the unacclimatized worker before allowing him/her to do full work on a hot job.

Under this regimen, the first day of work on siteis begun using only 50 percent of the anticipated workload and exposure time, and 10 percent is added each day through day 6. With fit or trained individuals, the acclimatization period may be shortened 2 or 3 days. However, workers can lose acclimatization in a matter of days, and work regimens should be adjusted to account for this. HAZMAT Technicians when enclosed in an impermeable suit, physically fit acclimatized individuals sweat more profusely than unfit or unacclimatized individuals and may therefore actually face a greater danger of heat exhaustion due to rapid dehydration. This can be prevented by consuming adequate quantities of water. Generally, maximum work capacity declines with increasing age, but this is not always the case. Active, well-conditioned seniors often have performance capabilities equal to or greater than young sedentary individuals. However, there is some evidence, indicated by lower sweat rates and higher body core temperatures, that older individuals are less effective in compensating for a given level of environmental heat and work loads.

At moderate thermal loads, however, the physiological responses of "young" and "old" are similar and performance is not affected. Age should not be the sole criterion for judging whether or not an individual should be subjected to moderate heat stress. Fitness level is a more important factor. Studies and literature indicate that females tolerate heat stress at least as well as their male counterparts. Generally, a female's work capacity averages 10 to 30 percent less than that of a male. The primary reasons for this are the greater oxygen-carrying capacity and the stronger heart in the male. However, a similar situation exists as with aging: not all males have greater work capacities than all females. The ability of a body to dissipate heat depends on the ratio of its surface area to its mass (surface area/weight). Heat loss (dissipation) is a function of surface area and heat production is dependent on mass. Therefore, heat balance is described by the ratio of the two. Since overweight individuals (those with a low ratio) produce more heat per unit of surface area than thin individuals (those with a high ratio), overweight individuals should be given special consideration in heat stress situations. However, when wearing impermeable clothing, the weight of an individual is not a critical factor in determining the ability to dissipate excess heat.


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