Hazardous materials removal workers identify and dispose of harmful substances such as asbestos, lead, and radioactive waste.
What they do
Hazardous Materials Removal Workers also neutralize and clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, or toxic.
Hazmat removal workers typically do the following:
- Follow safety procedures before, during, and after cleanup
- Comply with state and federal laws regarding waste disposal
- Test hazardous materials to determine the proper way to clean up
- Construct scaffolding or build containment areas before cleaning up
- Remove, neutralize, or clean up hazardous materials that are found or spilled
- Clean contaminated tools and equipment for reuse
- Package, transport, or store hazardous materials
- Keep records of cleanup activities
Hazmat removal workers clean up materials that are harmful to people and the environment. They usually work in teams and follow strict instructions and guidelines. The specific duties of hazmat removal workers depend on the substances that are targeted and the location of the cleanup. For example, some workers remove and treat radioactive materials generated by nuclear facilities and power plants. They break down contaminated items such as “glove boxes,” which are used to process radioactive materials, and they clean and decontaminate facilities that are closed or decommissioned (taken out of service).
Hazmat removal workers may clean up hazardous materials in response to natural or human-made disasters and accidents, such as those involving trains, trucks, or other vehicles transporting hazardous materials.
Workers dealing with radiation may also measure, record, and report radiation levels; operate high-pressure cleaning equipment for decontamination; and package radioactive materials for removal or storage.
Working conditions vary with the hazardous material being removed. For example, workers removing lead or asbestos often spend time in confined spaces or at great heights and must bend or stoop to remove the material. Workers responding to emergency and disaster scenarios may be outside in all types of weather.
Asbestos and lead abatement workers typically are in buildings being renovated or torn down, or in confined spaces.
Hazmat removal work may be physically demanding and strenuous.
How to become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker
Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers typically need a high school diploma and are trained on the job. They must complete training that follows federal, state, and local standards.
Hazmat removal workers typically need a high school diploma.
Hazmat removal workers receive training on the job. Training generally includes a combination of technical instruction and fieldwork. For technical training, they learn safety procedures and the proper use of personal protective equipment. Onsite, they learn about equipment and chemicals and are supervised by an experienced worker.
The length of training and the information covered in training varies, depending on regulatory requirements and type of hazardous material that a worker is being trained to remove or reduce.
Employers may require workers to have completed OSHA Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) training. The training covers health hazards, personal protective equipment, site safety, recognizing and identifying hazards, and decontamination. Refresher training may be required periodically.
To work with a specific hazardous material, workers must complete training requirements and work requirements set by state or federal agencies on handling that material.
Workers who treat asbestos or lead, the most common contaminants, must complete an employer-sponsored training program that covers technical and safety subjects outlined by OSHA.
Workers at nuclear facilities receive extensive training. In addition to completing HAZWOPER training, workers must take courses on nuclear materials and radiation safety as mandated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Organizations and companies provide training through programs that are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Apprenticeships, such as Construction Craft Laborer through the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), provide training, hands-on instruction, and certification tests for hazmat workers.
Some states require workers to have permits or licenses for each type of hazardous waste they remove, particularly asbestos and lead. Workers who transport hazardous materials may need a state or federal permit.
License requirements vary by state, but candidates typically must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Complete training mandated by a state or federal agency
- Pass a written exam
To maintain licensure, workers must take continuing education courses each year. For more information, check with the state’s licensing agency.
Some certifications, such as for HAZWOPER training, may be required. Others, such as Department of Transportation (DOT) hazmat transportation certification, are optional but may lead to more employment opportunities.
The median annual wage for hazardous materials removal workers was $43,900 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,100, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $74,650.
Employment of hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Employment growth will be driven by the need to safely remove and clean up hazardous materials at sites recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition, with nuclear plants continuing to be decommissioned in the next decade, hazmat removal workers will be needed to decontaminate equipment, store waste, and clean up these facilities for safe closure.
Similar Job Titles
Abatement Worker, Asbestos Abatement Worker, Asbestos Hazard Abatement Worker, Asbestos Remover, Asbestos Worker, Decontamination / Decommissioning Operator (D & D Operator), Field Technician, Hazmat Technician (Hazardous Materials Technician), Site Worker, Waste Handling Technician, Decontamination Technician, Decontamination Worker
Non-Destructive Testing Specialist; Rotary Drill Operators, Oil and Gas; Explosives Workers, Ordnance Handling Experts and Blasters; Chemical Equipment Operators and Tenders; Tank Car, Truck and Ship Loaders
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- United Steelworkers - This organization is North America’s largest industrial union. They are 1.2 million members and retirees strong in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. They proudly represent men and women who work in nearly every industry there is. This organization's members are leaders in your communities, in your work places, in our governments and more.
Magazines and Publications
At old factories, power plants, and other facilities… hazardous materials —or hazmat—removal workers… clean up and remove materials that would be harmful to people and the environment. Hazmat workers remove lead or asbestos from structures that are undergoing renovation or demolition. They apply chemicals to surfaces, and cut out the material from surfaces or strip the walls, then package the waste. They may use sandblasters, scrapers, and vacuums to remove paint, often working in confined spaces or at great heights. They may build scaffolds or containment areas before cleanup. Hazmat workers also clean up landfills, incinerators, and industrial furnaces. Some work at nuclear facilities and power plants, where they measure and record radiation levels and package radioactive materials for storage. Hazmat workers are also called in to clean up spills from train or truck accidents. Hazmat work is dangerous, and guided by strict safety procedures. Workers wear protective suits and respirators for hours at a time. Most hazmat workers are employed full time, and overtime and shift work are common. When a disaster occurs, they may travel to work on location for several days or weeks. While a high school diploma or equivalent is the only formal education required, hazmat workers receive in-depth on-the-job training. Workers at nuclear facilities must take courses mandated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOne Stop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org