An unexpected release of hazardous substances, or a substantial threat of a hazardous substance release, can pose a significant health and safety risk to workers. Unexpected releases can be caused by operation failures and unrelated outside events, such as natural disasters or terrorism. Workers can encounter hazardous substances through waste dumped in the environment—a serious safety and health issue that continues to endanger life and environmental quality.

Employers must adequately prepare emergency response and cleanup workers to clearly understand their role(s) in managing unexpected releases of hazardous substances, so that they can act quickly and respond in a safe manner during an emergency. OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standards in general industry 29 CFR 1910.120 and construction 29 CFR 1926.65 establish health and safety requirements for employers engaged in these operations, as well as responses to emergencies involving releases of hazardous substances.

HAZWOPER standards require that employers follow specific work policies, practices and procedures to protect their workers potentially exposed to hazardous substances. The standards provide employers with the information and training criteria necessary to ensure workplace health and safety during hazardous waste, emergency response and cleanup operations involving hazardous substances and aim to prevent and minimize the possibility of worker injury and illness resulting from potential exposures to hazardous substances.

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