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Standards Interpretation and Compliance Letters

Interpretation On Medical Surveillance Rrequirements Under
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.

December 16, 1996

Fred H. Halvorsen, Ph.D.
Vice President of Health & Safety
OHM Corporation
16406 U.S. Route 244 East
Post Office Box 551
Findley, Ohio 45839-0551

Dear Dr. Halvorsen:

This is in response to your letter of July 10, requesting an interpretation on medical surveillance requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER), (29 CFR 1910.120 and 1926.65) standard. Specifically, you requested clarification as to whether OHM could provide biennial instead of annual medical examinations to hazardous waste technicians.

In your letter, you defined hazardous waste technicians as employees "who might be expected to work in personal protective equipment in potentially close contact with hazardous wastes during ... emergency response ... and cleanup operations." In addition, you indicated that OHM's decision to reduce the scheduled frequency of periodic medical examinations was arrived at in coordination with OHM's Medical Director, based on a review of expected duties, exposures, and past medical surveillance data for the affected personnel. Your letter also requested clarification as to whether OHM could provide age-based medical examinations to the management and support personnel who were described in your letter as "personnel who may only visit sites periodically, or may work at sites, but do not routinely work in personal protective equipment in close contact with hazardous wastes."

Requirements to provide baseline, periodic, and termination examinations to covered employees are established in 29 CFR 1910.120(f)(3). Subparagraph (f)(3)(i)(B) addresses periodic examinations and states that such examinations shall be made available by the employer to each covered employee:

At least once every 12 months for each employee covered unless the attending physician believes a longer interval (not greater than biennially) is appropriate.

Under this subparagraph, OSHA provides some flexibility in establishing the required frequency for periodic medical examinations and specifically allows employers (including OHM) to reduce the frequency of periodic medical examinations for covered employees to less than annually, but not greater than every 2 years, if the physician believes it is appropriate. Given the information in the letter from OHM, particularly, the determination by OHM's Medical Director, it appears OHM's biennial medical evaluation program would satisfy the requirements in 29 CFR 1910.120(f)(3)(i)(B) and in 1926.65(f)(3)(i)(B).

In regards to your company's management and support personnel, the HAZWOPER standard requires employers to include in their medical surveillance program employees who are or may be exposed to hazardous substances or health hazards at or above permissible exposure levels for 30 days or more per year (1910.120(f)(2)(i)), who must wear a respirator for 30 days or more per year (1910.120(f)(2)(ii)), who are injured or become ill due to possible overexposures involving hazardous substances or health hazards from an emergency response or hazardous waste operation (1910.120(f)(2)(iii)), or who are members of HAZMAT teams (1910.120(f)(2)(iv)).

If your management and support personnel do not meet any of these four criteria (1910.120(f)(2)(i) - (iv)), then they are not covered under the medical surveillance requirements of the HAZWOPER standard. Accordingly, routine HAZWOPER-related medical surveillance examinations (including aged-based examinations) provided to these employees would be at the employer's discretion and would not conflict with HAZWOPER medical surveillance requirements. If your management and support personnel meet any of the four criteria established in paragraph (f)(2) of the standard, however, then each of these employees must receive medical examinations in accordance with paragraph (f)(3) of the standard.

We hope that this letter clarifies your concerns regarding medical surveillance requirements under OSHA's HAZWOPER standard. If you have additional questions please contact this office at (202) 219-8036.


Ruth McCully, Director
Office of Health Compliance Assistance

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