Chemical Emergency Responses and Incidental Releases

You and other employees must have OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 HAZWOPER training if at any time you will be conducting a "chemical emergency response." For a release response to be a "chemical emergency response", two things must be true:

  • There must be a "non-incidental" release
  • of a DOT hazardous material or a biological hazard.

OSHA does not define "incidental release" at the rule beyond stating that to be exempt the response must be conducted "at the time of release" and by "persons in the area or by maintenance personnel."

Thus, employees are allowed to manage incidental releases without the necessity of having a formal chemical emergency response plan or a HazMat team or HAZWOPER training. However employees responding to incidental releases must be trained. But the appropriate training is 29 CFR 1910.1200 Hazard Communication training for managing foreseeable releases during routine operations. Unlike the HAZWOPER requirements, this does not specify the number of hours of training and it does not require annual refresher training.

Notice that even spill responses managed by employees in their normal work area may be chemical emergency response if

  • The spill occurred at an earlier time and is being managed well after the fact, or
  • The size of the spill is beyond "incidental."

While there is no definition of "incidental" in the rules or the guidance (you have to justify your choice based on the hazard of the material, the preparation of the responder, and the procedures and PPE used in the response), our rule of thumb is that for most materials and most organizations, it is somewhere between one pound and a 55-gal drum of liquid hazardous material. The incidental amount could be much larger for solids and would normally be much smaller for gases.


"We do not allow employees to manage any releases other than incidental releases. For larger quantities we have written in our emergency action plan that we will evacuate the release area and call in an outside agencies (such as the fire department or spill control contractor) to manage the hazard."