Is your universal waste exempt from OSHA’s HazCom standard?

By: Lisa Neuberger

Publication: Environmental Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 01/10/2020

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) applies to a wide range of employers who have hazardous chemicals in the workplace. But the HCS does not apply to any RCRA hazardous waste that is subject to EPA regulations. That exception has led to many questions, including whether the HCS applies to certain wastes that are not managed as strictly hazardous wastes under EPA management programs such as universal wastes.

OSHA says yes, universal waste is exempt from HazCom (mostly)

A recently released OSHA letter of interpretation answers that question (in a roundabout way), saying “When waste does not meet the definition of ‘hazardous waste’ under the RCRA regulations, it is covered by the HCS if it meets the standard’s definition of ‘hazardous chemical’ at 29 CFR 1210.1200(c), and if it does not fall under any of the other HCS exemptions.”

The letter explains that EPA’s universal waste regulations at 40 CFR Part 273 streamline the hazardous waste management standards under RCRA for “certain categories” of hazardous waste that are commonly generated by a wide variety of establishments. The four types of federally covered universal wastes are batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment, and lamps.

The question then remains on universal waste:

Is universal waste a hazardous waste that is exempt from OSHA’s HCS?

Answer: Yes. OSHA says universal waste is considered to be hazardous waste under RCRA and is therefore, exempt from the HCS.

But you have to be able to prove it

However, OSHA says that if you’re claiming the hazardous waste exemption, you must be able to show that the material is covered by RCRA. At the very least, you must be able to show that you’ve labeled the material correctly according to EPA’s regulations.

Bonus question — state-only universal waste

The letter also addressed state-only regulated universal wastes. Some states allow additional wastes to be managed as universal wastes. For instance, New Jersey allows generators to manage oil-based finishes as universal wastes. Is this state-specific waste also exempted from the HCS?

Answer: No. The HCS exemption only covers universal waste that is defined by the federal RCRA regulations as hazardous waste.

About the author
Lisa Neuberger - EH&S Editor

Lisa joined J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. in 2008. She serves as a resource for customers on environmental, health, and safety topics, and has a passion for the safe management of hazardous waste. She specializes in OSHA’s workplace injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting, flammable liquids, and sanitation standards and in EPA’s solid and hazardous waste regulations.

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