Compiled by:

Tony Rieck

Director of Training Programs

T.R. Consulting, Inc.

April 2002


The following article presents a discussion of the requirements for HAZWOPER training and for recertification of individuals in the event of a lapse in refresher training. Additionally, some guidelines for selecting training suitable for your individual circumstance are provided.   To access the official OSHA interpretation on lapses in HAZWOPER training visit the OSHA website at:

Enter the date March 12, 1993 under the search criteria, press the search button and select the HAZWOPER interpretation document (only 2 documents will be listed).




For workers subject to the requirements for training under 29 CFR Part 1910.120(e), there are three specific sets of training requirements:


*        Initial training;

*        Supervisor training for management and supervisory personnel; and

*        Annual refresher training


Initial training is conducted in two parts: classroom training and supervised field training.  The length of the required training is dependant upon the anticipated exposures and activities of the worker on site.  Workers on site for specific, limited tasks and who will be on sites that have been fully characterized and will not be exposed above published safe exposure limits (not required to wear a respirator) are required to have 24 hours of classroom instruction and 1 day of field training under qualified supervision.  Those anticipated to have greater exposure are required to complete 40 hours of classroom instruction and 3 days of field training under qualified supervision.  Workers who receive the 24 hours of initial training are allowed to receive 16 additional hours of classroom instruction and 2 days of field supervision to qualify for work on sites or performing tasks requiring the 40 hour certification.


Supervisors and on-site management are required to complete additional training beyond the initial training requirements previously described.  In order to supervise employees required to complete initial HAZWOPER training, a supervisor must complete the same level of initial training required of the field employees plus an additional 8 hours of training on employer and task specific subjects such as: safety and health plans, selection of PPE, spill containment and methods for site and personnel monitoring.  Only after completion of both the initial training and the supervisory training can an employee fill the role of a qualified field supervisor capable of providing the field supervision required of new employees.


Refresher training is mandated of all workers wishing to retain their ability to work at sites requiring HAZWOPER certification.  Eight hours of refresher training is conducted once every 12 months to maintain the workers original certification qualifications (either 24 hour or 40 hour).  The training is required to review the same topics as were initially required plus a review of the past years experiences related to safety.  Additionally, new procedures, technology and any changes to regulations affecting the employees work need to be discussed.




Ask three companies providing HAZWOPER training what is required of an individual who misses an annual refresher and you are likely to get three different responses.  The amount of training required to “make up for” missed refresher training can vary depending upon many factors.  Factors to be considered include: the worker’s level of experience, length of time away from working within hazardous locations, extent of changes to regulations or technology involved in the workplace, the applicability of the content of past training to expected site activities, and the relevance of past experience to the duties and exposures expected. 


Lapses occur in employee training for a number of reasons:  family leave (child birth, sick relative, etc.), scheduling conflicts, illness, career changes, layoffs, etc.  In making decisions regarding the level of training required to again work at sites requiring HAZWOPER trained site personnel, OSHA’s published interpretation on this issue states, “Employees need not retrain in those training elements for which they can demonstrate competency”.  In addition, the interpretation states, “In many cases, a two year absence from hazardous waste work would not necessitate repetition of the course materials of the initial 24-hour or 40-hour training, and refresher training by itself could be sufficient”.  The interpretation clarifies that repetition of the initial course materials is never mandated, but, in cases of extended absence from hazardous waste work (cited example is seven years), “the employer may wish to consider repeating the initial training course”.  When an active employee misses a scheduled refresher course due to conflict, illness or some other reason, the employee should be scheduled in the next available class and written record detailing the reason for missing the scheduled refresher should be placed in the employee’s file.  Please note that, while the placing of written documentation in the employees file and scheduling the employee to be in the next available refresher may satisfy Federal OSHA, State OSHA programs (and, at last count, there were 23 state operated programs) can be more stringent on this issue and some of these State operated programs require that the training be completed no later than the exact anniversary date of the previous training completion date.  Thus, a worker whose training will have lapsed for two weeks prior to his scheduled refresher training would be eligible to work during that two week period in most, but not all, states.


The key to compliance with the training requirements for refresher training is employee competency in the required areas of mandatory training and the familiarity of the employee with site specific factors.  The required elements of training are the same for refresher training as for initial training except that refresher training is, obviously, a lighter treatment of the subject matter and refresher training is supposed to include a discussion of the student’s past year of experiences as they relate to safety.  A list of the required elements is provided below:


  1. Names of personnel and alternates responsible for site safety and health (chain of command);
  2. Safety, health and other hazards present on the site;
  3. Use of personal protective equipment;
  4. Work practices to minimize risk from site hazards;
  5. Proper (safe) use of engineering controls and equipment on site;
  6. Medical surveillance techniques in use and recognition of symptoms associated with overexposure;
  7. Decontamination Procedures;
  8. Emergency response;
  9. Confined space program; and,
  10. Spill containment procedures.


Additional Topic (refresher only, but instructive for initial training as well):


*        Provide a critique of incidents (and near incidents) that can serve as training examples (good or bad) and other relevant topics.


It is evident from the stated regulatory requirements that the employer must provide certain elements of the on-going employee training (items # 1 and 2 especially).  A properly designed HAZWOPER course will satisfy the Hazard Communication standard requirements of 29 CFR Part 1910.1200 as a part of the course.  Generic training will require substantial effort on the part of the employer to achieve compliance.





The ultimate responsibility for compliance with the employee training requirements (any required training, not just HAZWOPER) set forth by OSHA falls on the employer.  The employer is responsible to ensure that all provided training meets the needs of the company’s employees.  A program that promises compliance with specific regulations may look attractive.  But, if the program doesn’t actually provide the required training to the attending employees, the employer must provide additional training until the requirements are met.  Some actual examples are given below:


A local community college offers a 40 hour HAZWOPER course meeting the requirements of 29 CFR Part 1910.120(e)(3) – initial training under HAZWOPER and 1910.1200 – hazard communication standard.  The course focuses on industrial safety in a manufacturing plant.  No mention is made of common petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel.  The attending employee’s (from this particular company) work tasks involved entering and cleaning fuel storage tanks.  Since the symptoms of exposure for the chemicals that these employees are routinely exposed to and the potential effects of exposure were not discussed, the requirements of the hazard communication standard were not met (and, arguably, the 40 hour training was insufficient as well).  The employer must still provide additional training under the hazard communication standard, 3 days of qualified field supervision, confined space training and provide any specific training under the HAZWOPER standard that was not presented as a part of the attended training.  With the exception of the field supervision requirement, a class designed to meet his company’s specific training requirements could have provided all of the above.


A “training” company sends a “trainer” to a local hotel to conduct refresher training for a company.  The employees arrive at the hotel room at 8:00.  After a couple of questions regarding their past safety and how they were going to be more safe this year, they left with their certification cards complete with a Polaroid snap shot – before 10:00 am.  When the employer found out about it, he had to hire another company to perform the same training and pay for it a second time.


Unfortunately, the number of such incidents that can be related is quite lengthy.   Certainly, with so much at stake for the employer, the phrase “caveat emptor” was never more appropriate.





There are two ways that HAZWOPER training programs are presented:  generic training and designed classes.


Generic training is by far the most common.  Open enrollment classes offered by local community colleges and companies offering HAZWOPER in seminar formats are good examples of generic training.  The varied backgrounds of the enrollees lead to a variety of on-site task responsibilities and a wide range of potential exposures beyond the capability of these classes to address on an individual basis.  Generic training is best suited to individuals with a higher level of education who work at sites for shorter durations and where there are few similarities from one site to the next.  The employer has the responsibility to ensure that employees receiving generic training receive the site and exposure specific information required under the rule.


Designed training is training that is offered to individual employers or groups of employers having employees with similar job tasks and potential exposures.  This training will use examples of materials and tasks performed by employees in the field.  Because the training delves into the specific practices performed by employees and the chemicals to which employees are likely to be exposed, the elements of training required by the Hazard Communication Standard can be incorporated into the program.  This type of training is best suited to individuals working at sites or in fields where exposure is to the same hazards repetitively.  Examples of employees who would benefit the most from this approach include: workers at industrial facilities or factories who are exposed (or potentially exposed) to chemicals as a part of their work tasks, and workers providing specific types of service to sites where the exposure is to the same chemical or types of chemicals (i.e. petroleum service). 


Too often, the focus of generic training programs is on elements that are unrelated to the tasks and exposures of the student.  A common example is the class that breaks into groups where the student dons Level A PPE and approaches a simulated train wreck or a simulated drug lab.  The generic principals of the training are presented over 24 to 32 hours of classroom time and the remainder devoted to these simulated field activities.  This training is wonderful if your potential job duties include responding to: a potentially leaking tanker car, to a site where a methamphetamine lab is to be dismantled, or some other site where you are required to wear Level A PPE.  Unfortunately, for the majority of employees requiring HAZWOPER training, there is little relevance to a significant portion of the class time.


The internet has provided another means for many employees to conveniently receive HAZWOPER training.  Certainly, there can be little arguing that a responsible presentation of a HAZWOPER refresher can be conducted on-line, but 40 hour initial training conducted solely on-line may not be capable of meeting the needs of employee and employer.





Once the decision has been made as to the desirability of specific or generic training, the following guidelines can help to ensure that the training truly provides a reasonable level of compliance:




*        Should provide the topics to be included in the course

*        Should state the regulations for which the course intends compliance

*        Should include exercises or hands-on work that relates the class to the employees job functions or exposures

*        Should encourage exchanges between the instructor and the student

*        Must assess the student’s comprehension of the material




*        Must include a discussion of the student’s experiences related to safety (incidents, near incidents, etc.)




*        Individual attention to exercises and tests

*        Email and/or telephone support instructions

*        Individual assessment and feed back (i.e. review of exercises and tests after completion)


There are classes out there that will tell you that your employee will be certified in HAZWOPER refresher, confined spaces, excavations, and Hazard Communication Standard requirements in one 8 hour course (sometimes less in actuality).  This simply is not possible!  Don’t let unscrupulous training providers lead you astray.