Friday, March 1, 2013

Employers: You Better Dig a Little Deeper into the OSHA HAZWOPER Training Requirements

Many employers at work sites where chemicals are used believe the employee training requirements in paragraph (q)(6) of the HAZWOPER standards do not apply to their work site because if they were to have a large chemical spill or release at the site, they would simply call in an outside firm or organization (like the local Fire Department) to handle the emergency. However, what many employers do not realize is that even if they call in an outside company or organization to deal with the spill, they may still have people in their organization that are required to have a certain level of training per paragraph (q)(6) of the HAZWOPER standards for general industry (1910.120) and construction (1926.65). To help illustrate what I mean, consider the following hypothetical scenario:
“A forklift operator at a factory accidentally strikes some pipes that run between chemical tanks located behind the shop, and the chemical began running onto the ground. The forklift operator quickly alerts his foreman about the accident. The foreman looked at the accident site from a safe distance and realizes that the quantity of chemical being released is beyond an incidental spill that could be safely handled by normal operating personnel, so he tells his workers to evacuate the area, and then he contacts the site safety manager to report the incident. The site safety manager immediately calls the local Fire Department to report the spill and specifically requests they send their hazardous materials (HAZMAT) response team to the site. He then goes to the general area of the accident, careful to remain a safe distance, and observes some of the liquid chemical is running across the pavement towards a storm drain inlet. So he quickly grabs some absorbent “pigs” from a nearby spill response kit and places them across the opening of the storm drain inlet before the chemical can reach the area.
Once the fire department’s HAZMAT team arrives, their incident commander confers with the safety manager, and then instructs two of his team members to gear up and take monitoring equipment to the point of release to confirm which chemical is involved and to evaluate any potential atmospheric and/or safety hazards. By that time, the company’s head of the engineering department arrives at the scene, and he gears up to go into the hot zone with the fire department’s HAZMAT team members so he can point out which valves need to be shut off to stop the flow of chemical. Once the valves are identified, one of the HAZMAT team members turns off the valves to stop the chemical from running out of the broken pipes, and then they stabilize the area to prevent further spread of the chemical.”
Wherever there is an initial response to a hazardous material that is spilled or otherwise released in quantities beyond an incidental spill, such as at the factory in our scenario, the OSHA HAZWOPER standard has specific training standards in paragraph (q) for five distinct categories of workers potentially involved in the initial response. Here is an overview of training requirements for workers in all five worker categories mentioned in our scenario:
·    The first worker category listed in paragraph (q) of the standard is called “First Responder Awareness Level”, and their training requirements are described in 1910.120(q)(6)(i). In our scenario, this person is the foreman in the area where the forklift struck the pipes. In other incidents, this may be someone such as a police officer who happens upon a major wreck involving a chemical tank-truck, or perhaps a security officer making rounds after hours at a chemical manufacturing plant who happens upon an unexpected spill or release of chemicals. The First Responder Awareness Level employee must be provided with training sufficient to understand that the release of chemicals is beyond the scope of an incidental release, and that it will require response and clean-up by specially trained workers. The foreman in our scenario notified the site safety manager of the release, and also initiated the evacuation of workers in the area per his company’s emergency action plan. He did not take any further action to try to contain or confine the chemical release. Awareness level responders must also receive adequate training to be able recognize and identify the hazardous substance(s) involved in the release, to understand the risks presented by the hazardous material(s) involved, and be able to implement whatever part they are assigned in executing the emergency action plan at the site. There is no minimum time period that their training must cover, just a requirement that the training enable the first responder to perform his or her duties.

·    The next person involved in the emergency response in our scenario is the site safety manager, who had been trained as a “First Responder Operations Level”, as outlined in 1910.120(q)(6)(ii). In other cases, this may be a fire-fighter who responds to a wreck and sprays water on a burning tanker from afar, or an equipment room operator who tries to electronically manipulate valves from the control room to shut off an electronic valve or pump on a broken chemical line. The site safety manager in our scenario responded to the initial chemical release in a purely defensive fashion to protect the environment from the effects of the chemicals by placing the absorbent pigs in front of the storm drain inlet, never putting himself in a position to be harmed by the released chemical. Operations level responders must be trained to the same level of knowledge required for an Awareness Level responder (previously described), as well as in whatever defensive steps should be taken to contain the release from a safe distance to protect nearby workers and property. Operations-level responders must also be trained to properly utilize any personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to perform their job safely, have an understanding of the basic terminology used in emergency responses to chemical releases, and know the procedures needed to ensure safe decontamination of their equipment and PPE when needed. The OSHA standard states their training must take at least eight (8) hours to complete or that person must have enough experience to objectively demonstrate competency in all required areas.

·    The next level of responder covered in our scenario are the members of the fire department’s HAZMAT crew who went into the hot zone (where the accident actually occurred) to evaluate the atmosphere and stop the actual leak. They are referred to as “Hazardous Materials Technicians”, and their training requirements are addressed in OSHA standard 1910.120(q)(6)(iii). These workers must receive at least 24 hours of training on topics needed to enable them to perform their duties safely, which includes but is not limited to understanding the means and methods necessary to stop the actual release of chemicals (for example, closing valves or patching / plugging a ruptured line). Their training must consist of instruction equaling that of the First Responder Operations Level, plus additional instruction to enable them to implement the emergency action plan for their organization, select and utilize personal protective equipment necessary for the particular incident in which they are involved, utilize equipment to identify and verify the hazardous materials (chemical, biological, and/or radiological) involved in the incident, function within their role in the Incident Command System (ICS). They must also have a basic knowledge of the terms commonly used in hazardous materials responses, as well as have an understanding of the harmful effects of the materials to which they are exposed.

·    The next level of emergency responder is called the “Hazardous Materials Specialist”, covered in 1910.120(q)(6)(iv). They provide support to the Hazardous Materials Technicians by offering skills or knowledge about the specific materials or processes involved in the incident, and/or act as liaison to various agencies responding to the event.   In our scenario, this is the company’s head of the engineering department, who went into the hot zone with the Hazardous Materials Technicians to point out which valves shut off the flow of chemicals in the ruptured pipes. In other events, this could be someone trained to operate specialized monitoring equipment to evaluate conditions in the hot zone. These “Specialists” must have a minimum of 24 hours training in the same general topics as that required for the First Responder Operations Level, plus whatever specialized knowledge is needed to perform their designated task (such as use of specialized monitoring instrumentation, ability to identify and/or operate critical valves . . .). While commonly employed, a HAZMAT Specialist may not be utilized in all emergency response incidents.

·    The fifth and final classification of emergency responder found in paragraph (q) of the OSHA HAZWOPER standard is that of the “On Scene Incident Commander.” In our scenario, the On Site Incident Commander was the leader of the Fire Department’s HAZMAT Response Team. However, the person acting in this role may change from person to person over time as different agencies respond to the scene, per the protocols outlined in the Incident Command Systems (ICS). Their training requirements are outlined in 1910.120(q)(6)(v), and must consist of at least 24 hours training in topics covered for the First Responder Operations Level, plus additional training to be able to oversee the execution of the emergency action plans for all entities involved (local, state, federal). They must have knowledge of the hazards of the hazardous materials (chemical, biological, and/or radiological) involved in the incident, and also be able to manage or evaluate the selection, use, and decontamination of the personal protective equipment used in the response incident.
As you can now see, three different company employees in our scenario were involved in the response to the point that they were required to be trained under paragraph (q) of the OSHA HAZWOPER standards, even though the company called in an outside organization (the Fire Department HAZMAT team) to deal with the spill. Those employees were the foreman (First Responder Awareness Level), the site safety manager (First Responder Operations Level), and the head of engineering (Hazardous Materials Specialist). 
With this information in mind, reconsider your own operations. Do you have employees who would be expected to respond in some fashion to a chemical spill or release and therefore fall into one or more of these five categories covered in paragraph (q) of the HAZWOPER standard? At the least, employers with hazardous chemicals on site in quantities that could potentially exceed an incidental spill would need a worker (or workers) trained to the First Responder Awareness Level so someone is available to recognize when it is actually necessary to call in outside assistance. So double check what your emergency response plan entails, and if one or more workers are involved to the degree covered in our scenario, you need to ensure you have documentation to show they were provided with the necessary HAZWOPER training specified for their appropriate level of response.

Do you have employees trained for any level of response in your operations? Can you think of a different scenario that helps demonstrate an event where such training for employees might be overlooked? If so, please make a comment below. And as always, feel free to share this information with others in your network.