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Key Requirements for Hazmat Transportation Employees

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August 1, 2020

Between all of the different oversight bodies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), there are multiple overlapping regulations regarding hazardous materials transportation. Some of these regulations include making sure employees are properly and adequately trained for the jobs they conduct in relation to hazardous materials. These requirements are about maintaining the safety of not just the employees handling the materials, but other workers and the public at large. That’s why adequate safety training isn’t just recommended, it is the law.

Understanding what is required of every employee involved in hazmat transportation is important in helping make sure that all regulations are met. In order to know who needs which specific training, it’s first necessary to understand who these regulations apply to.

Who is a Hazmat Employer?

First and foremost, it’s critical to understand who qualifies as a hazmat employer. Generally, any business or facility that accepts or offers hazardous material is deemed a hazmat employer.

The U.S. Department of Transportation defines a hazmat employer as “a person who uses one or more of its employees in connection with: transporting hazardous materials in commerce; causing hazardous materials to be transported or shipped in commerce; or representing, marking, certifying, selling, offering, manufacturing, reconditioning, testing, repairing or modifying containers, drums, or packaging as qualified in the transportation of hazardous materials.”1

Essentially, any business that deals in any way with hazardous materials is considered a hazmat employer. As such, this employer is required to ensure its own hazmat employees are properly trained.

Under the specific Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s regulations related to hazardous materials transportation (49 CFR 171.8), there are no exceptions for the size of a business where an individual may be “employed on a full time, part time, or temporary basis by a hazmat employer, or who is self-employed” that the qualifications of a hazmat employee must be responsible for his or her own safety training.2

Who is a Hazmat Employee?

The legal definition of a hazmat employee is anyone who “directly affects hazardous materials transportation safety” and extends beyond those actually driving, loading, or unloading the vehicles.3

According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a hazmat employee is anyone “who loads, unloads, or handles hazmat; tests, reconditions, repairs, modifies, marks, or otherwise represents packaging as qualified for use in the transportation of hazmat; prepares hazmat for transportation; is responsible for the safety of transporting hazmat; or operates a vehicle used to transport hazmat.”4

This definition likely covers most employees of any hazmat employer. Even an office secretary who only types hazmat descriptions onto shipping papers is considered a hazmat employee under these guidelines, and thus requires training.

The Importance of Hazardous Materials Training

Before getting into what training is required, it’s helpful to remember why extensive safety training is necessary. Training is the first step to reducing and preventing hazmat incidents caused by human error.

According to PHMSA “training is the best means of preventing, or reducing, hazardous materials (hazmat) incidents in transportation that are caused by human error. Receiving the required training enhances employee safety and security, and increases employee productivity and skills. Effective training also reduces incidents and accidents thereby reducing operating costs and losses from property damage, thus increasing profits.”5

Hazmat Training Requirements

The Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) require every hazmat employer to train, test, and certify every hazmat employee before the employee performs any function subject to the HMR. Recurrent/refresher training is required at least once every three years. Hazmat training must include, unless excepted, general awareness/familiarization training, function-specific training, safety training, security awareness training, and in-depth security training when applicable.

General Awareness/Familiarization Training (49 CFR 172.704(a)(1))

Every hazmat employee must complete Hazmat General Awareness Training. It involves a general knowledge of the Hazardous Materials Regulations and its requirements, as well as how to recognize and properly identify hazardous materials.

Safety Training (49 CFR 172.704(a)(3))

As with general awareness training, Safety Training is for all employees who handle hazardous materials. It addresses important emergency response information, measures to protect an employee from dangers associated with exposure to hazardous materials to which they may be exposed, as well as methods and procedures for avoiding accidents.

Security Awareness Training (49 CFR 172.704(a)(4))

Since hazmat transportation can present health and safety risks, employees must be able to recognize and respond to security threats. is a requirement for all hazmat employees in order to be aware of potential security risks posed by hazmat transportation, as well as methods to improve transportation security.

Important Note: Employees who are responsible for implementing a DOT security plan, as well as those who perform specific duties under that security plan need to receive complete in-depth security training (172.704(a)(5)). This training is 100% company-specific, it MUST be created by the individual company.

Function-specific Training (49 CFR 172.704(a)(2))

Function-specific training addresses the Hazardous Materials Regulation (HMR) requirements that apply to the specific job (or functions) that a hazmat employee performs. For example, if an individual marks and labels packages for ground transport, an in-depth 49 CFR Training course should be taken to cover that portion of the individual’s job. Similarly, an individual who marks and labels packages for air transport, an IATA Training course should be taken.

Another example pertains to companies that ship lithium ion or lithium metal batteries. Hazmat employees at that company can complete.

Prevent Hazardous Headaches by Maintaining Your Records

It’s important for hazmat employees to maintain up-to-date documentation of their completed training hazmat employees are required to undergo recurrent training every three years, or when there is a change to the employee’s duties or to the regulations that govern his or her training. Employees who do not complete retraining may not legally perform any functions of a hazmat employee.

Hazmat employers are also responsible for maintaining hazmat training records for each individual employee. These records must include the employee’s name, a description of the course materials used, certification that the employee was trained and tested and information pertaining to the training provider, such as, name, date and address.

Transporting hazardous materials involves more than just moving them from point A to point B. Every step along the way represents dangers to both people and property. That’s why regulatory agencies have such extensive and detailed requirements for training of hazmat employees.

According to the Federal Register, the “the maximum civil penalty ranges from $55,000 to $75,000 for a person who knowingly violates the Federal hazardous material transportation law or a regulation, order, special permit, or approval issued under that law.” It is important to follow safety practices, but the penalties and consequences that come with violating those practices.

Therefore, it’s essential to have a solid understanding all of the key requirements you must follow if you’re a hazmat employer or an individual hazmat employee so that you can avoid unnecessary accidents as well as administrative headaches and costly penalties.

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Newman, William L. "Radiometric Time Scale." Geologic Time. (accessed March 23, 2011).

1 "How to Comply with Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations." Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. (accessed December 12, 2019).

2 "Electronic Code of Federal Regulations." Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. (accessed December 12, 2019).

3 "49 CFR § 171.8 - Definitions and abbreviations." Cornell’s Legal Information Institute. (accessed December 12, 2019).

4 "Guide to Developing a Hazmat Training Program." Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. (accessed December 12, 2019).

5 "Hazmat Transportation Training Requirements." Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. (accessed December 12, 2019).

6 "Hazardous Materials: Revision of Maximum and Minimum Civil Penalties." The Office of the Federal Register. (accessed December 12, 2019).

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