Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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    Our CDL-A hazmat drivers operate equipment to remove oily waters and sludge as well as other sources of contaminated waste waters that are generated

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    Also conducts daily facility inspections of the environmental health area as related to hazardous materials, to ensure compliance with hazardous

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What Hazardous Materials Removal Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, lead, radioactive waste, and other hazardous materials. They also neutralize and clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, or toxic.

Duties of Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

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 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, removing lead and asbestos requires different actions than does cleaning up radiation contamination and toxic spills, and cleaning up a fuel spill from a train derailment is more urgent than removing lead paint from a bridge.

The following are examples of types of hazmat removal workers:

Asbestos abatement workers and lead abatement workers remove asbestos and lead, respectively, from buildings and structures, particularly those which are being renovated or demolished. Most of this work is in older buildings that were originally built with asbestos insulation and lead-based paints—both of which are now banned.

Asbestos and lead abatement workers apply chemicals to surfaces, such as walls and ceilings, in order to soften asbestos or remove lead-based paint. Once the chemicals are applied, workers cut out asbestos from the surfaces or strip the walls. They package the residue or paint chips and place them in approved bags or containers for proper disposal. Lead abatement workers operate sandblasters, high-pressure water sprayers, and other tools to remove paint. Asbestos abatement workers also use scrapers or vacuums to remove asbestos from buildings.

Decommissioning and decontamination 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 closed or decommissioned (taken out of service) facilities.

Emergency and disaster response workers 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.

Radiation-protection technicians measure, record, and report radiation levels; operate high-pressure cleaning equipment for decontamination; and package radioactive materials for removal or storage.

Treatment, storage, and disposal workers prepare and transport hazardous materials for treatment, storage, or disposal. Proper treatment of materials requires these workers to follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. Using equipment such as forklifts, earthmoving machinery, and trucks, these workers move materials from contaminated sites to incinerators, landfills, or storage facilities. Workers also organize and track the locations of items in these facilities.

Work Environment for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Hazardous materials removal workers hold about 43,700 jobs. The industries that employ the most hazardous materials removal workers are as follows:

Waste management and remediation services 74%
Construction 9
Government 4

Working conditions vary with the hazardous material being removed. For example, workers removing lead or asbestos often work in confined spaces or at great heights and bend or stoop to remove the material. Emergency and disaster response workers may work outside in all weather conditions.

Asbestos and lead abatement workers typically work in buildings that are being renovated or torn down. Completing projects often requires night and weekend work to meet deadlines.

Treatment, storage, and disposal workers are usually employed at facilities such as landfills, incinerators, and industrial furnaces.

Decommissioning and decontamination workers and technicians work at nuclear facilities and electric power plants.

Injuries and Illnesses

Cleaning or removing hazardous materials is dangerous, and workers must follow specific safety procedures to avoid injuries and illnesses. They usually work in teams and follow instructions from a team leader or site supervisor.

Workers wear coveralls, gloves, shoe covers, and safety glasses or goggles to reduce their exposure to harmful materials. Some must wear fully closed protective suits, which may be hot and uncomfortable, for several hours at a time. Hazmat removal workers are required to wear respirators to protect themselves from airborne particles or noxious gases in extremely toxic cleanups. Lead abatement workers wear personal air monitors that measure the amount of lead exposure.

Hazardous Materials Removal Worker Work Schedules

Most hazmat removal workers are employed full time. Overtime and shift work are common, especially for emergency and disaster response workers.

Some hazmat removal workers travel to areas affected by a disaster. During a cleanup, workers may be away from home for several days or weeks until the project is completed.

Hazmat removal workers at nuclear facilities are busiest during periods of refueling and may experience unemployment at other times.

How to Become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers near you!

Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers receive on-the-job training. They must complete up to 40 hours of training in accordance with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

There are no formal education requirements beyond a high school diploma.

Some hazmat removal workers must be licensed. Positions in nuclear facilities require candidates to be U.S. citizens, pass a security background investigation, and pass drug and alcohol abuse screening.

Hazardous Materials Removal Worker Education

Hazmat removal workers typically need a high school diploma. Although not required, associate’s degree programs related to radiation protection may help candidates seeking positions in nuclear facilities.

Hazardous Materials Removal Worker Training

Hazmat removal workers receive training on the job. Training generally includes a combination of classroom instruction and fieldwork. In the classroom, 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.

As part of this training, workers must complete up to 40 hours of training in accordance with OSHA standards. The length of training depends on the type of hazardous material that workers handle. The training covers health hazards, personal protective equipment and clothing, site safety, recognizing and identifying hazards, and decontamination.

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.

Decommissioning and decontamination workers at nuclear facilities receive extensive training. In addition to completing the OSHA-required hazardous waste removal training, workers must take courses on nuclear materials and radiation safety as mandated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These courses may take up to 3 months to complete, although most are not taken consecutively.

Organizations and companies provide training programs that are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, and other regulatory agencies.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In addition to completing the training required by OSHA, some states mandate permits or licenses, particularly for asbestos and lead removal. 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.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Although previous work experience is not required, some employers prefer candidates with experience in the construction trades, such as construction laborers and helpers.

In addition, some employers at nuclear facilities prefer to hire workers with at least 2 years of related work experience. Experience in nuclear operations in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear technician or power plant operator or experience working as a janitor at a nuclear facility may be helpful.

Important Qualities for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Decisionmaking skills. Hazmat removal workers identify materials in a spill or leak and choose the proper method for cleaning up.

Detail oriented. Hazmat removal workers must follow safety procedures and keep records of their work. For example, workers must track the amount and type of waste disposed, equipment or chemicals used, and number of containers stored.

Math skills. Workers must be able to perform basic mathematical conversions and calculations when mixing solutions that neutralize contaminants.

Mechanical skills. Hazmat removal workers may operate heavy equipment to clean contaminated sites.

Physical stamina. Workers may have to stand and scrub equipment or surfaces for hours at a time to remove toxic materials.

Hazardous Materials Removal Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for hazardous materials removal workers is $39,690. 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 $26,170, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,230.

The median annual wages for hazardous materials removal workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Government $51,000
Waste management and remediation services 39,590
Construction 36,580

Most hazmat removal workers are employed full time. Overtime and shift work are common, especially for emergency and disaster response workers.

Some hazmat removal workers travel to areas affected by a disaster. During a cleanup, workers may be away from home for several days or weeks until a project is completed.

Hazmat removal workers at nuclear facilities are busiest during refueling periods and may experience unemployment at other times.

Union membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, hazardous materials removal workers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers is projected to grow 7 percent through 2024, about as fast as 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. Recycling waste activities should also contribute to some employment growth.

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.

Employment growth of some hazmat removal workers often depends on the amount of federal funding for cleanup projects.

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers Job Prospects

Overall job opportunities for hazmat removal workers should be good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year. Hazmat removal workers may face competition from those construction laborers and insulation workers who are trained to do hazmat removal or cleanups.

Applicants who have previous work experience with reactors in the U.S. Navy may have better job opportunities at nuclear facilities.

Employment projections data for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Hazardous materials removal workers 43,700 47,000 7 3,300

*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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