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.
Hazmat removal workers typically do the following:
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 may 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.
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.
In addition, workers may prepare and transport hazardous materials for treatment, storage, or disposal in accordance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. Using equipment such as forklifts, earthmoving machinery, and trucks, workers move materials from contaminated sites to incinerators, landfills, or storage facilities. They also organize and track the locations of items in these facilities.
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.
Hazardous materials removal workers hold about 46,200 jobs. The largest employers of hazardous materials removal workers are as follows:
|Remediation and other waste management services||64%|
|Waste treatment and disposal||9|
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. Workers responding to emergency and disaster scenarios may work outside in all weather conditions.
Asbestos and lead abatement workers typically work in buildings that are being renovated or torn down, or in confined spaces.
Many other workers are employed at facilities such as landfills, incinerators, and industrial furnaces. Others may work at nuclear facilities and electric power plants.
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.
Most hazmat removal workers are employed full time. Overtime and shift work are common, especially for workers responding to emergency and disaster scenarios.
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.
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 and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
There are no formal education requirements beyond a high school diploma.
Hazmat removal workers typically need a high school diploma.
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.
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 the 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.
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.
In addition to mandating the completion of 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:
To maintain licensure, workers must take continuing education courses each year. For more information, check with the state's licensing agency.
Although work experience is not required, some employers prefer candidates with experience in the construction trades—workers such as construction laborers and helpers.
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 of, 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 up contaminated sites.
Physical stamina. Workers may have to stand and scrub equipment or surfaces for hours at a time to remove toxic materials.
Physical strength. Some hazmat removal workers may have to lift and move heavy pieces of materials they are removing from a site.
The median annual wage for hazardous materials removal workers is $40,640. 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 $26,630, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $74,160.
The median annual wages for hazardous materials removal workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Waste treatment and disposal||$42,840|
|Remediation and other waste management services||40,610|
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.
Employment of hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers is projected to grow 17 percent over the next ten years, 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.
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.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2016||Projected Employment, 2026||Change, 2016-26|
|Hazardous materials removal workers||46,200||54,100||17||7,900|