Hazmat training ensures that employees can safely work with hazardous substances within their job role and respond appropriately to accidents and emergencies. For example, a spill of something flammable requires a different response than a spill of something acidic.
Similarly, other skills are needed to work directly with a hazardous material than to transport it or dispose of it.
Because of these different types of risks and different ways of working with the materials, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has defined different levels of Hazmat training. Here is an overview of the different hazmat training levels and which occupations are affected by hazmat requirements.
- Difference Between Hazmat and HAZWOPER Training
- The Levels of Hazmat Training
- HAZWOPER Training for People Who Work With Hazardous Materials
- HAZWOPER Training for First Responders
- Annual HAZWOPER Refresher Training
- Other Types of HAZWOPER Training
Difference Between Hazmat and HAZWOPER Training
It’s common to see the terms ‘hazmat training,’ and ‘HAZWOPER training’ used almost interchangeably. ‘Hazmat’ training is a broad term that refers to any and all training that deals with hazardous materials.
On the other hand, Hazardous Waste Operations Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) is a set of skills associated with specific response levels. Generally speaking, it comes down to the difference between saying ‘I have a college degree’ and ‘I have a bachelor’s degree in organic chemistry.’
HAZWOPER training is required for people who may be required to respond to any of the following situations:
- Environments that pose an imminent danger to life or health
- Risk of fire or explosion
- Evacuated areas
- High levels of toxic substances
The Levels of Hazmat Training
There are two fundamental types of HAZWOPER training, and each has associated levels. Here are two types and levels of hazmat training.
HAZWOPER Training for People Who Work With Hazardous Materials
These levels of training are designed for people who are employed in a workplace with hazardous materials. The training levels are designated by the employee’s specific role, and therefore their anticipated exposure to dangerous materials.
Occasional Site Workers
This training is designed for people who may occasionally encounter hazardous materials on the worksite. However, they are not exposed to hazardous substances above permissible exposure limits, do not work in hazardous areas of the job site, and are not involved in cleanup operations.
This level of training typically requires 24 hours of off-site instruction and a minimum of one day of supervised experience in the field.
General Site Workers
This training is designed for people who are regularly engaged with hazardous materials at the worksite who may be regularly working in the storage or treatment of hazardous substances.
As a result, they are potentially exposed to levels of hazardous materials above permissible limits and therefore must wear the appropriate protective equipment.
This level of training typically requires 40 hours of off-site instruction and a minimum of three days of supervised experience in the field.
Site Managers and Supervisors
HAZWOPER management training requires either of the above certifications (occasional or general) and additional supervisory training. Managers and supervisors need to know general hazmat training, along with specialized training that covers worker safety and protection, health hazard monitoring, and spill containment procedures.
This level of training requires either certification above and a minimum of 8 hours of additional specialized training.
TSD Site Workers
People who work specifically in hazardous material treatment, storage, or disposal (TSD) facilities may need additional hazmat training.
These workers usually require 24 hours of additional training, along with an annual refresher training.
HAZWOPER Training for First Responders
These levels of training apply to people who may observe or respond to the release of hazardous substances. In some workplaces, like industrial sites and waste facilities, this training may be needed in addition to the above certifications.
In some fields, like fire response or law enforcement, only the below levels of training are required.
HAZWOPER Level I
Level one responders may observe the release of hazardous materials and need to know how to properly initiate emergency response. They need to know how to identify and recognize hazards, understand risks and potential outcomes, and the appropriate response.
In addition, they may be trained on how to trigger alarms, call 911, notify security or on-site responders, etc.
This level of training has no hourly requirement but is expected to be included in employee safety training and orientation.
HAZWOPER Level II
Level two responders are people who need to respond to the release of a hazardous substance. They are responsible for a defensive response, attempting to protect property, people, and the environment. Their training may include containment and prevention of the spread of materials, including shutting off valves or pumps, closing vents or drains, distributing protective equipment, etc.
This level of training requires at least 8 hours of additional instruction on emergency and safety procedures.
HAZWOPER Level III
Level three responders are ‘emergency response technicians.’ They are responsible for preventing the further spread of hazardous materials and function within an Incident Command System. They may be trained to use specialized equipment and instruments in containment and control, including identifying unknown materials and patching or plugging leaks and gaps.
This level of training requires Level II certification, along with 24 hours of additional instruction.
HAZWOPER Level IV
Level four responders are ‘hazardous materials specialists.’ They often act as liaisons between response technicians and employers, authorities, and other people involved at the scene of a hazardous incident.
They need to create and implement appropriate emergency response plans and procedures, use specialized instruments and equipment, and understand the potential risks of hazardous substances and the appropriate emergency responses.
This level of training requires Level III certification, along with 24 hours of additional instruction.
HAZWOPER Level V
A level five HAZWOPER responder trained to be an ‘on-scene incident commander.’ They are responsible for the overall management of a given emergency, including understanding the Federal Regional Response system and coordinating company, local, and state emergency response plans and procedures.
This level of training requires Level IV certification, along with 24 hours of additional instruction. In addition, most employers who have employees certified at Level II or higher are required to have at least one Level V employee with leadership experience who can take control of the scene of an accident or emergency.
These levels of HAZWOPER training are cumulative, so everyone has received all the training and has all the knowledge of the levels below them.
Annual HAZWOPER Refresher Training
To maintain HAZWOPER certification, most of these levels also require annual ‘refresher’ training. Refresher training is typically 8 hours a year and is designed to keep workers up to date on existing and new hazards, procedures and regulations, safety planning, and protective equipment.
Other Types of HAZWOPER Training
There is also specialized HAZWOPER training for specific industries and job roles. For example, firefighters have a different role in a hazardous materials response than people working in a medical facility, environmental protection, or cleanup. Safety professionals may also take additional HAZWOPER training to become trainers themselves and educate others on safety procedures.
OSHA has created different levels of hazmat and HAZWOPER training and certifications, depending on whether:
- Employees are regularly working on-site with, or handling and using hazardous substances
- Employees are working specifically in hazardous waste sites
- Employees are first responders who are expected to respond to accidents and emergencies
These levels of training allow workers to work safely and with the right equipment, respond appropriately to accidents and emergencies, and clarify different roles and expectations in the case of an incident. In addition, annual refresher training ensures that everyone remains aware of their roles and continues to work safely with hazardous materials.
Specialized HAZWOPER training is also required in specific job roles and industries, depending on the substances and safety procedures necessary for working with those materials. OSHA guidelines specify minimum instruction levels, but more training and experience may be required in some situations.