The federal hazardous materials transportation law (49 U.S.C. 5101 et seq.) is the basic statute pertaining to the transportation of hazardous materials—or hazmat—in the United States. This law requires the training of ALL hazmat employees. The purposes are to increase a hazmat employee’s safety awareness and to be an essential element in reducing hazmat incidents.
When tasks for an employee involve hazardous materials, as an employer, you must ensure that the employee receives appropriate training. There are no exceptions—ALL employees who meet DOT’s definition of “hazmat employees” must be both trained and tested and then certified by the employer to be able to successfully perform his or her hazmat duties.
The regulations define a hazmat employee as a person who is employed by a hazardous materials employer and “directly affects hazardous materials transportation safety.”
The regs also provide examples of hazmat employees, including those who load, unload, or otherwise handle hazmats; operators of vehicles transporting hazmats; employees who test, repair, modify, mark, or otherwise represent packagings as qualified for transporting hazmats; employees who prepare hazmats for transportation; and employees who are responsible for safety in the transportation of hazmats.
Despite the examples, the provision that a hazmat employee is one who “directly affects hazmat transportation safety” is notable for being nonspecific. The regulations clearly intend that any individual who has any impact on the safety of hazmats in transportation is considered a hazmat employee who requires training and certification.
For example, an office assistant who types the required hazardous materials description on a shipping paper at the direction of another is a hazmat employee and must be trained, tested, and certified.
Here are several other key points about hazmat employee training:
- DOT requirements for training depend on the job duties (see Sidebar). Of the types required, two involve security training. First, each hazmat employee must have “awareness” training that addresses security risks associated with hazmat transportation and methods designed to enhance transportation security. Second, in-depth security training is required for employees if the employer is required to have a security plan.
- Specific requirements for air, vessel, and highway hazmat transportation have been developed by DOT agencies that regulate those modes of transportation.
- A new employee or an employee who changes position may perform hazmat job functions provided he or she is under the direct supervision of a properly trained and knowledgeable hazmat employee, and the hazmat training for the new/transferred employee is completed within 90 days of employment or change in job function.
- Relevant training received from a previous employer or another previous source may be used to satisfy the requirements provided a current record of training is available.
- A training record must include the hazmat employee’s name, completion date of the most recent training, training materials, name and address of hazmat trainer, and certification that the hazmat employee has been trained and tested.
- Refresher training is required at least once every 3 years. Security awareness training must be provided at an employee’s next scheduled retraining at or within the 3-year training cycle. If the security plan for which training is required is revised during the 3-year recurrent training cycle, refresher training must be provided within 90 days of implementation of the revised plan.
- The regs do not state that an employee must “pass” a test. However, the employee may only be certified in areas in which he or she can successfully perform his or her hazmat duties.
- A record of current training including the preceding 3 years must be created and retained for each hazmat employee for as long as the employee is employed by that employer and for 90 days thereafter.
DOT has written a letter of interpretation that states the agency’s position on the meaning of “adequate training” for hazmat employees. The letter states that responsible hazmat employers, either individually or through industry associations, are best qualified to determine the training needs of their employees. “No attempt has been made to specify the level and duration of training or testing,” states the letter.
Tips for Employers
Given the sketchiness of the hazmat training regs, DOT’s PHMSA periodically publishes guidance material to assist hazmat employers in meeting the requirements to train employees.
The following suggestions to help you make the right choices in your training programs are gleaned from a recent PHMSA publication, What You Should Know: A Guide to Developing a Hazardous Materials Training Program.
- Before developing a training program, conduct a needs assessment. For example, determine the level of awareness hazmat employees have about hazmats, the hazmat regulations, and the level of training they have undergone. Find out if training employees have already received is adequate for the tasks they are now performing; this is frequently an issue in smaller companies where an employee may be required to fill in for co-workers on regulated activities. Similarly, if the company’s operations have changed since the last round of training, determine if new employee training to accommodate the changes has occurred.
- Select a training tool. PHMSA’s guidance lists four training delivery methods: Web-based; computer-based; classroom; and hands-on/mentor training. Decisions on which of these or which combination are most appropriate will depend on many factors, including cost, suitability for the hazmat employee and the employee’s hazmat responsibilities, language proficiency, whether employees can be self-directed, and qualifications of the instructor. PHMSA’s guidance lists the pros and cons of each training delivery method.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the training program. A training program is only as good as the results it produces. Employers should query employees about how they benefited from the training. Employers should also observe employees after training to determine how lessons have been incorporated into performance. Results of interviews and observation should be documented and incorporated, if necessary, into subsequent training.
- Don’t stop with training. Develop a safety culture that encourages training as part of daily and typical tasks and operations. Attention to regulatory requirements, efficiency, and improved performance invariably begins with demonstrated commitment by top management followed by buy-in from all other levels of the company. Employees should be motivated to identify problems at early stages without fear of retribution or retaliation. Problems that are quickly corrected will promote proactive approaches to safety. When management provides the right foundation and acts appropriately, employees will be more motivated to take ownership of the operations for which they are responsible and share responsibility equally with management for the overall safety of the company. “Enhanced safety measures help to reduce the cost of doing business by reducing accidents, decreasing workers’ compensation claims, and providing a more effective and targeted use of resources,” states PHMSA.
- Assign a training manager. One or more employees with knowledge of the hazardous materials regulations (HMRs) and experience receiving and providing training can ensure that training continues to be conducted as required and with a high success rate. A training manager should be given the time and resources to effectively manage training. Responsibilities can include arranging for newly trained employees to be evaluated; determining additional training needs for incumbents; communicating the status of training to upper management; and maintaining training records in compliance with PHMSA regulations. Larger companies may also consider formation of training committees that meet regularly to assess the effectiveness of the training program.
- Make a plan. Don’t make important training decisions only when a hazmat employee is hired or operations change. A plan need not be long and complicated. PHMSA suggests a statement of purpose and the benefits that can derive from thorough and regular training that is appropriate to the employee, the job function(s), and the company and its resources. Deciding at the last minute to meet the training requirement (training must be completed within 90 days of the first day of employment or the first day of a change in job function) can result in unnecessary costs if a professional trainer must be hired when adequate in-house resources are available. The plan should include specific directions on how the effectiveness of training is evaluated and methods to improve the program, if necessary. Directions on completing administrative tasks, such as recordkeeping and maintaining a schedule of both required and discretionary actions, should be included.
NOTE: Training information must be presented clearly and accurately and in a manner that can be understood by employees of varying literacy and language skills.
PHMSA’s guidance contains generic forms and checklists that can help hazmat employers organize their ideas and remove some of the vagueness of the performance-based training requirements for hazmat employers and employees.
The guidance is available here.