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Standards Interpretation and Compliance Letters

OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations And Emergency Response

OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. OSHA's interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that their enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time they update their guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.

August 27, 1991

Mr. Robert L. Brooks
Certified Instructor
Outreach Program
Right to Know Management Systems Incorporated
113 Wembley Road
Wilmington, Delaware 19808

Dear Mr. Brooks:

This is in response to your inquiry of July 29, concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response final rule (29 CFR 1910.120).

Your specific question relates to the scope and application of 1910.120 concerning home heating oil distributors.

For an employer to be covered by this rule, employees must be engaged in one of the following operations:

  1. Hazardous waste operations under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, including any initial investigations of the site prior to identification of exposures.

  2. Corrective actions involving cleanup conducted under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

  3. Operations at State or local government designated hazardous waste sites.

  4. Operations involving hazardous waste storage, treatment, and disposal facilities regulated by 40 CFR 264 and 265 pursuant to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

  5. Emergency response operations at any workplace when there has been a release or a substantial threat of a release of hazardous substances.

Any employer, including a home heating oil company, would be covered under the fifth point as defined in the scope of the standard if they handle hazardous substances. The requirements for employers involved in emergency responses to the release of hazardous substances are delineated in paragraph (q) of the standard.

Under the emergency response program OSHA allows a conditional exemption from the emergency response requirements:

  • 29 CFR 1910.120 (q)(1): "Employers who will evacuate their employees from the work site location when an emergency occurs, and who do not permit any of their employees to assist in handling the emergency are exempt from the requirements of this paragraph if they provide an emergency action plan complying with 29 CFR 1910.38(a) of this part."

Employers who are conditionally exempt and intend to evacuate employees from the danger area are not required to train employees to comply with the balance of 1910.120(q).

Employers who intend to evacuate their employees would be expected, although not required by the standard, to call in outside assistance in the event of an emergency. However, it appears that the home heating oil distributor described in your letter does intend to direct their employees to respond to an emergency involving the release of hazardous substance. Therefore, the employer would be required to meet the requirements in 1910.120 paragraph (q).

Again from your letter it appears that many of the requirements in paragraph (q) may have already been met through the development of the "Spill Prevention Control and Counter Measure Plan" and "instruction held on oil spill prevention, containment and retrieval methods and the "dry run" drill for an on site vehicular spill incident."

OSHA refers you to paragraph (q) of the enclosed 1910.120 standard. A review and comparison of the paragraph's requirements and your aforementioned activities may be useful to identify any deficiencies in your effort to comply with 1910.120 paragraph (q).

We hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact MaryAnn Garrahan at (202) 523-8036.


Gerard F. Scannell
Assistant Secretary

More information on "Letters of Interpretations" can be found on OSHA's Website at www.osha.gov