HAZWOPER is an acronym that stands for OSHA’s hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard. This standard, 1910.120, establishes safe practices for handling hazardous waste and preparing for situations in which a toxic chemical or other substance is accidentally released. These events are extremely dangerous for workers and may have a serious impact on both worker safety and the local environment. Any employee who works with or near hazardous waste must be trained for and adhere to HAZWOPER.
The standard covers a wide range of activities and workers. On top of handling dangerous substances, HAZWOPER includes standards on cleaning contaminated sites that contain hazardous waste, storing toxic chemicals, and emergency response to a catastrophic event such as a spill or explosion. Even if certain employees do not directly interact with hazardous waste, and simply work in a facility where this waste is treated or stored, it’s crucial for everyone to understand safety standards in case there’s an emergency. In many cases, HAZWOPER has saved lives.
A major element to HAZWOPER is extensive training. There are several aspects that workers who are at risk for exposure to hazardous materials must be comprehensively trained on: the original emergency response, cleanup, and then storage and disposal of hazardous waste. It’s important for workers to understand the immediate action they need to take in the event of a spill, which cleanup materials to use depending on the substance involved, and how to properly dispose of cleanup materials so the environment doesn’t undergo further harm. Employees that handle, store, or transport hazardous chemicals must complete initial HAZWOPER training, as well as annual refresher training, to ensure that accidental releases are responded to safely and properly.
It should be noted that site cleanup requires more training than emergency response or storage/disposal. Site workers need almost twice as many hours of initial training, as well as three days of supervised field experience. There are many dangerous factors to the cleanup of hazardous chemicals, and if it’s taken care of safely, this prevents accidents from happening in the first place.
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