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An Intro to HAZWOPER Training

By Steve Prentice
Published: August 1, 2019
Key Takeaways

HAZWOPER training is not just for workers who may be directly exposed to hazardous substances. Their mangers and supervisors must also obtain this certification.

Caption: Hazardous Substances Source: SeventyFour / iStock

HAZWOPER is short for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response. It was coined by the U.S. Military during the Second World War but is still used for hazardous waste handling and emergency services.

Who Needs HAZWOPER Training?

Having grown out of munitions dump handling in the Second World War, HAZWOPER training built much of its knowledge base out of large-scale industrial waste cleanup projects like Love Canal in upstate New York.

It has now become a vital part of a wide range of industries – not just emergency services, but on-site in companies and factories of all types.


According to OSHA, HAZWOPER applies to five different tasks or operations:

  1. Cleanup as required by a governmental body
  2. Corrective actions
  3. Voluntary cleanup
  4. General hazardous waste operations
  5. Emergency response operations that involve hazardous substances of situations

(Learn more in HAZWOPER: A Primer.)

OSHA further clarifies that a hazardous situation consists of one of the following:

  • High concentrations of toxic substances
  • A situation that is life or injury threatening
  • Imminent Danger to Life and Health (IDLH) environments
  • Situation that presents an oxygen deficient atmosphere
  • Condition that poses a fire or explosion hazard
  • A situation that required an evacuation of the area
  • A situation that requires immediate attention because of the danger posed to employees in the area


Your specific training needs can be assessed by your employer's health and safety officer. Since different professions and worksites require different areas of specialty and practice, it's good to consult on this matter before going through the training program.

It’s important to also recognize that HAZWOPER training is also required for managers and supervisors, not only the employees who will be directly exposed to hazardous substances.

Initial Training

The initial OSHA HAZWOPER course is 40 hours. Most of it can be taken online, but it also requires an eight-hour hands-on training component, which includes making use of the specific PPE that will be required on your jobsite.

The hands-on portion of the training can be delivered by a certified local instructor.

(Learn 6 Ways a Permanent, In-House Safety Trainer Can Benefit Your Organization.)

In addition to the 40 hours of initial training, students also need at least three days of supervised field experience before they are allowed to enter their worksite.


24 Hour Course

OSHA also provides a 24-hour course that covers broader issues relating to hazard recognition on work sites. This course is required for any employee whose work will involve visiting an uncontrolled hazardous waste operation as mandated by the government.

Refresher Course

The annual refresher course is eight hours and is required for workers whose jobs involves either removing hazardous waste or potential exposure to hazardous substances.

The Curriculum

HAZWOPER courses cover a lot of ground. Starting with a general introduction, the 40-hour course includes topics on Hazard Recognition and Control, Chemical Awareness and Toxicology, along with situation specific topics including Excavation Safety, Handling Drums and Containers, Decontamination, and much more.


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Written by Steve Prentice

Profile Picture of Steve Prentice

Steve Prentice is a project manager and a specialist in productivity and technology in the workplace. Much of his work focuses on techniques for creating and maintaining safe and healthy working environments. He believes new educational technologies will go a long way in establishing policies and practice that support safe and balanced work, while blockchain tech will assist greatly in the process, and he assists companies in adopting these as new best practices. He is a published author of three self-help books, and is in high demand as a guest speaker and media commentator. His academic background is in organizational psychology and project management.

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