The terms “HAZWOPER” and “HAZMAT” are often used interchangeably. While closely related, these words actually carry different meanings. HAZWOPER generally refers to the act of handling, packaging, storing and transportation of hazardous materials while HAZMAT typically refers to the materials themselves. 

Below, we’ve put together detailed definitions for HAZWOPER versus HAZMAT and explain the types of certification that are needed for each.

The Difference Between HAZWOPER and HAZMAT


HAZWOPER” is an acronym for “Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response.” This represents a set of guidelines used for workers who are exposed to hazardous substances on their work sites. HAZWOPER regulations are in place to keep both employees and the environment safe.

HAZWOPER guidelines are produced and maintained by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates hazardous waste operations and emergency services in the U.S. and U.S. territories.


“HAZMAT” is a simple abbreviation for “hazardous materials.” Hazardous materials are those that pose a reasonable risk to health, property, or the environment through exposure. These can include toxic chemicals, nuclear waste products and biological, chemical, or radiological substances that can be released as a liquid, solid, gas, or combination of all three.

The Difference Between HAZWOPER and DOT RCRA Training

Many people confuse the terms Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) and Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT). The terms are very similar but their meanings differ considerably. Professionals in the Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) field have for many years been saying that HAZWOPER applies to training for contaminated sites whereas HAZMAT applies to the Department of Transportation (DOT). Well, there is some truth in this belief.

 HAZWOPER applies to the remediation of contaminated sites, emergency response and treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes. Hazardous wastes are defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations. Specifically, Subtitle C of the regulation is where you will find the definition of solid waste and hazardous waste. RCRA regulations are very complex.

The scope and breadth of RCRA has impacted almost every part of the public and private sectors. HAZMAT is mentioned and referred to in the HAZWOPER regulations, which may be why there is some confusion. HAZMAT relates to HAZWOPER in the emergency response component of the regulations. The regulations cover the full gamut of HAZMAT operations. First responders to HAZMAT Technicians must be properly trained and possess a high degree of competency prior to engaging in an emergency response scenario.

HAZMAT is mentioned in HAZWOPER regulations, but many people assume that HAZMAT refers to DOT training. DOT training is function specific and required by anyone who offers a hazardous substance/material for public transportation. This pertains to the handling, packaging, shipping, and completion of documentation (bill of lading/manifest). 

Generally speaking, people who inquire about HAZMAT training are referring to DOT training. People who inquire about HAZWOPER training are referring to workers who remediate contaminated sites. Caution must be exercised to ensure that employees are receiving the correct training for the particular job they will perform. Make sure your employees get the right training for the right job.

Get the Correct Training

With HAZMAT and HAZWOPER being so similar, it’s easy to get confused about what kind of training and certification is needed for you or your employees.

Employees who work with or around hazardous materials will typically need to complete HAZWOPER training. This training is designed for anyone tasked with loading, unloading, handling, managing, labeling, marking or transporting hazardous materials and is pertinent to general site workers at contaminated sites, emergency responders, and anyone who works at hazardous waste treatment, storage, or disposal facilities.

HAZMAT workers are asked to complete either a 40-hour training course or a 24-hour HAZWOPER course depending on their level of expected exposure. There are also annual refresher courses and role-specific training courses. We recommend looking up requirements for DOT HAZMAT training to make sure you are getting the correct training. 

Not sure about which course to take? We’ve got you covered. Read our guide to HAZWOPER training requirements or reach out to us by phone or email to learn more about what may be required for you or your employees.