Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents
• Standard Number: 1910.120; 1910.120(a)(3) ; 1910.120(q); 1910.1200; 1910.1200(c)

June 23, 2005

Mr. Kenneth W. Woodlin
P.O. Box 717
Pittsburgh, PA 15230

Dear Mr. Woodlin:

Thank you for your January 18, 2005, facsimile to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requesting information on which OSHA regulations apply when handling waste material classified as "sludge exempt." This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any situation not delineated within your original correspondence. Your question is paraphrased below, followed by OSHA's response.

Question: Under the Federal Sludge Exemption of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) hazardous waste regulations, a sludge exhibiting a characteristic of a hazardous waste is not a solid waste when reclaimed, and is, therefore, not a hazardous waste. Which OSHA standards would apply to workers handling this material, and what are the associated employer obligations for employee hazard communication? Since the material is not a "hazardous waste" due to the exemption, is the material, therefore, exempt from the Hazard Communication standard (HCS) and the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard?

Answer: All employers have the responsibility of providing safe and healthy working conditions for their workers. If employees are exposed to hazardous materials, employers have a responsibility to provide them with information about those exposures. OSHA's HCS, 29 CFR 1910.1200, applies to workplaces where hazardous chemicals are known to be present and to which employees are or may be exposed under normal conditions of use or in a foreseeable emergency.

It should be understood that just because a material is not classified by the EPA as a hazardous waste doesn't mean that it is not hazardous from the standpoint of OSHA compliance. Section (c) of the HCS defines a hazardous chemical as any chemical which is a physical hazard or a health hazard. OSHA further defines health hazard in the HCS as "a chemical for which there is statistically significant evidence based on at least one study conducted in accordance with established scientific principles that acute or chronic health effects may occur in exposed employees....Appendix B of the HCS describes the criteria to be used to determine whether or not a chemical is to be considered hazardous for purposes of this standard." Furthermore, the HCS provides no exemption for materials that do not meet the EPA definition of a hazardous waste.

Therefore, if the sludge material meets the definition of a physical or health hazard as defined in the HCS, then the HCS applies. OSHA has no way of knowing whether the material (sludge) meets this definition. Rather, it is the chemical manufacturers' or importers' responsibility to make this determination and assess whether there is exposure, or potential exposure, to workers.

Under the HCS, a chemical manufacturer is defined as an "employer with a workplace where chemical(s) are produced for use or distribution." As the recipient of the sludge, you should ask the supplier for a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the chemical product (sludge) that they have "produced" and sent (distributed) to you. Your supplier is required to conduct a hazard determination of the materials they are producing and communicate that information on the MSDS for the material. Suppliers are also required to label the containers of the distributed materials.

Section (q) of HAZWOPER covers emergency response operations for releases of, or substantial threats of releases of, hazardous substances without regard to the location. The intent of section (q) of HAZWOPER is to protect employees from exposure to the health and physical hazards of hazardous substances associated with emergency response activities.

The definition of "hazardous substance" under Section (a)(3) of HAZWOPER encompasses those substances defined as hazardous by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, and includes four distinct categories (see 1910.120(a)(3)(A-D)). Only one of these categories specifically refers to "hazardous waste." Therefore, the term hazardous substance covers a broad range of materials including, but not limited to, hazardous waste.

We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our 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 our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at