Hazmat Training

for the Safety Professional

By:Phil Baker, president, Environmental Results Corp.

Our technology-enhanced society is based and depends on hazardous materials.  We use hazardous materials (HAZMAT) in our homes, at work, and in transportation. The processes  that make our new phones and tablets, trucks and toys, and move us from point A to point Z require hazardous materials on the input side and generate several types of hazardous waste as output.

learn more about osh degreesAs an Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) practitioner, or as a student of the discipline, you will evaluate work processes that involve hazardous materials. You will be required to identify worker safety and health requirements based on specific laws, regulations, and national consensus standards for a material’s safe storage, use in work processes, and proper disposal. You will need to effectively apply safe and environmentally-sound strategies and best work practices to implement and comply with worker safety and health requirements. You will need to train new work staff, but keep the veteran staff competent while maintaining interest in effective safety, health, and environmental practices.  This is a tough assignment.  Are you ready?

To be effective in this endeavor, you need to truly understand hazardous materials and their impact on people and the environment.

There are numerous names given to hazardous materials. These include: hazardous substances (CERCLA/HAZWOPER), hazardous chemicals (HAZCOM/Labs/GHS), highly hazardous chemicals (PSM), hazardous air pollutants (CAA), extremely hazardous substances (EPCRA), hazardous materials (DOT), dangerous goods (international shipping), oils (CWA/OPA), toxic substances (TSCA), hazardous waste (RCRA), and the list continues to expand. The nomenclature frequently depends on the governmental agency involved in the regulation of that industry such as the transportation industry (DOT) or the chemical industry (EPA and OSHA). Each has developed their own standards and regulations. For simple purposes, let’s call them all hazardous materials and define them as anything that can cause harm to people, the environment, or property.

To be effective in this endeavor, you need to truly understand hazardous materials and their impact on people and the environment.

It is important to understand the hazards (the physical and chemical constants of a hazardous material) and risks (variables that change the level of risk such as quantity, location, and environmental factors) of hazardous materials and how they can impact people, property, the process and work site, and the environment.

In my forty plus years of dealing with hazardous materials in storage, used within a process, and during emergencies, I have developed a series of questions that I ask myself. Several of these questions were first used by HAZMAT instructor Frank Docimo. I expanded and use these questions when evaluating a process, writing a procedure, using the hazardous material, in training, or handling an emergency. These questions are:

  1. “What is it?”
  2. “How can it hurt me?” (the physical and chemical hazards that affect people, environment, property, and hinder work ability)
  3. “How can it get to me?” (the physical and chemical properties that allow it to reach me)
  4. “How much does it take to hurt me?” (part of risk)
  5. “Is that quantity on hand?” (part of risk)
  6. “How can I safely store it, use it, or mitigate an emergency?”
  7. “What engineering controls and/or personal protective equipment (PPE) are required?”
  8. “How do I safely handle any waste generated?” (e.g., solid waste, recyclables, used oil, universal waste, or hazardous waste)
  9. “What do I do if something goes wrong?” (what is my action plan for an emergency?)

If you can completely answer questions one through five, then you have a good handle on the hazard and risk of a hazardous material. Questions six through eight can be developed properly based on that hazard and risk and on specific OSH requirements (i.e., federal regulations and national consensus standards). Question nine needs to be answered before you deal with the hazardous material because as they say, “accidents happen!”  You need a Plan B (and maybe a C, D, etc…) if Plan A doesn’t work.

Although these nine questions seem simple enough, it takes time and training to learn how to thoroughly understand the hazards and risks of hazardous materials and to effectively apply safe and environmentally-sound strategies and work practices.  As you work towards your degree in the Occupational Health and Safety discipline, or as you work to enhance/advance your skill set, take every opportunity you can to integrate hazardous materials training into the education process.  Future employers recognize the benefit of bringing an OSH professional on board who can analyze hazardous materials and their work processes and prevent negative outcomes through effective OSH strategies and best work practices.

Phil Baker is president of Environmental Results Corporation, providing safety, environmental, and emergency preparedness/response consulting and training for over 20 years.  He has been in the fire and emergency services for over 40 years, 20 years within the USAF.  He is a Hazardous Material Team Leader with the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire and EMS Department.  As an instructor, he has over 2,000 hours of formal training and has conducted worker safety, environmental, weapons of mass destruction, and emergency preparedness and response training throughout the United States and overseas.  He has considerable experience with Federal environmental and worker safety requirements and programs.