what is hazwoper?

HAZWOPER /HAZ-waw-per/ is defined as Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response. Congress enacted legislation requiring that both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgate regulations to cover workers exposed to hazardous substances at various work sites.

Regulatory Background

In 1970, former President Richard M. Nixon signed the (Occupational Safety and Health) OSH Act into law. This law created a new government agency known as OSHA. The law mandated that OSHA promulgate and enforce health and President Richard Nixonsafety regulations or standards to protect employees at work. The law was extremely wide in its scope and breadth as so many work hazards were present at job sites across the United States (U.S.). OSHA Standards are grouped into four major categories: general industry (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910); construction (29 CFR 1926); maritime (shipyards, marine terminals, longshoring—29 CFR 1915-19); and agriculture (29 CFR 1928).

OSHA holds the employer ultimately responsible for the safety of their employees. There are many regulations for different hazards. When a hazard is present but no regulation addresses the hazard, OSHA will invoke the General Duty Clause. The General Duty Clause is OSHA's safety net for enforcing regulations when a safety hazard is not covered by a specific regulation.

On October 17, 1986, former President Reagan signed into law the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) As part SARA, OSHA was required to promulgate regulations which were to provide protection for employees engaged in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER). Congress also required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue regulations identical to the OSHA HAZWOPER regulations. The EPA regulations cover state and local government workers that do not have an approved OSHA Plan State. The only difference between the two regulations is the scope of coverage.President Ronald Reagan

OSHA issued a proposed rule on HAZWOPER including provisions for training on August 10, 1987 (52 FR 29620). Public hearings on the proposed rule were held during October 1987. As a result of that proposed rule OSHA published a permanent final rule for HAZWOPER on March 6, 1989 (54 FR 9294). That permanent final rule became effective on March 6, 1990. [54 FR 9293, March 6, 1989; 55 FR 14072, April 13, 1990]

HAZWOPER Regulations

OSHA specifically used the joint OSHA/EPA/United States Coast Guard (USCG)/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) manual entitled, "Occupational Safety and Health Guidance Manual for HazardousNIOSH-OSHA-USCG-EPA Guidebook Waste Site Activities" as an outline in preparing the interim rule and the proposed rule. This manual was developed as a result of the collaborative efforts of professionals representing the four agencies. The OSHA HAZWOPER regulations can be found in Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 1910.120 and Part 1926.65. The EPA version of the HAZWOPER regulations can be found in Title 40 CFR, Part 311. These regulations provide specific language in order to protect workers. The standards require the following key elements.

Key Elements of HAZWOPER Regulations

Site Analysis

A site analysis must be performed to determine the extent and nature of any contamination and delineate the plume. The information from the site analysis is vital in preparing site specific health and safety plans.


There are several training classifications based on job functions. They range from 40 hour HAZWOPER to awareness courses. Choosing the correct training course for the required job is extremely important.

Medical Surveillance

Employees who don a respirator must be enrolled in a Medical Surveillance program. This consists of a medical physical exam that includes a pulmonary function test. Periodic screening and checkups are required for workers exposed hazardous substances at or above Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs).

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is required upon entering a HAZWOPER site. The type and level of protection depends on the contaminants present and duration of work.

Engineering Controls

Engineering Controls should be the first line of defense for workers. When engineering controls alone do not adequately protect workers, PPE must be used.

Air Monitoring

Air monitoring is required before, during and after cleanup of a hazardous waste site. The type of air monitoring can include both area and personal monitoring.

Informational Programs

Employees must be granted access to informational programs with respect to HAZWOPER work and the particular site where they will be working. This can consists of tail gate meetings and review of health and safety plans.

Decontamination Procedures

Decontamination procedures are required when gross contamination is present at a work site. Based on the level of PPE, there are different requirements for proper decon.

Emergency Response Plans

Pre-planning for emergencies and having contingency plans in place are a regulatory requirement. 

Who Needs HAZWOPER Training? 

There are 3 levels of work where the HAZWOPER regulations apply. Workers who serve in any capacity associated with the following work areas, must be adequately trained. 

1. Emergency Response 

2. Cleanup of Contaminated Hazardous Waste Sites

3. Treatment, Storage and Disposal (TSD) of Hazardous Waste

A detailed discussion on the types of training and levels can be found here.


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