Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Summary

hazardous materials removal workers image
Workers dispose of hazardous materials.
Quick Facts: Hazardous Materials Removal Workers
2015 Median Pay $39,690 per year
$19.08 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 43,700
Job Outlook, 2014-24 7% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 3,300

What Hazardous Materials Removal Workers Do

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.

Work Environment

Work environments for hazmat removal workers vary with the material they are handling. Some must wear protective suits for several hours at a time. Completing projects often requires night and weekend work. Overtime is common, particularly for emergency or disaster response workers.

How to Become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker

Hazmat removal workers need a high school diploma and are trained on the job. Most workers complete up to 40 hours of training in accordance with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Some hazmat removal workers need a state license or permit.

Pay

The median annual wage for hazardous materials removal workers was $39,690 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of hazmat removal workers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Most job openings will stem from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for hazardous materials removal workers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of hazardous materials removal workers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about hazardous materials removal workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Hazardous Materials Removal Workers Do About this section

Hazardous materials removal workers
Hazmat removal workers remove, neutralize, or clean up hazardous materials.

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

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 About this section

Hazardous materials removal workers
Hazmat removal workers wear protective clothing to reduce exposure to toxic materials.

Hazardous materials removal workers held about 43,700 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most hazardous materials removal workers were 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.

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

Hazardous materials removal workers
Hazmat removal workers learn on the job.

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.

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.

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

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.

Pay About this section

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Median annual wages, May 2015

Construction and extraction occupations

$42,280

Hazardous materials removal workers

$39,690

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for hazardous materials removal workers was $39,690 in May 2015. 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.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for hazardous materials removal workers in the top industries in which they worked were 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 had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2014.

Job Outlook About this section

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Construction and extraction occupations

10%

Hazardous materials removal workers

7%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2014 to 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.

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 SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Hazardous materials removal workers

47-4041 43,700 47,000 7 3,300 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of hazardous materials removal workers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Construction laborers and helpers

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

See How to Become One $30,890
Firefighters

Firefighters

Firefighters control and put out fires, and respond to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

Postsecondary nondegree award $46,870
Insulation workers

Insulation Workers

Insulation workers install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings to help control and maintain the temperatures in buildings.

See How to Become One $38,630
Painters, construction and maintenance

Painters, Construction and Maintenance

Painters apply paint, stain, and coatings to walls and ceilings, buildings, bridges, and other structures.

No formal educational credential $36,580
Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

High school diploma or equivalent $75,660
Water and liquid waste treatment plant and system operators

Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators

Water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators manage a system of machines, often through the use of control boards, to transfer or treat water or wastewater.

High school diploma or equivalent $44,790

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about hazardous materials removal workers in the construction industry, including information on training, visit

Laborers’ International Union of North America

For more information about working in the nuclear industry, visit

Nuclear Energy Institute

For information about training and regulations mandated by federal agencies, visit

Occupational Safety & Health Administration

U.S. Department of Energy

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency        

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

O*NET

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Hazardous Materials Removal Workers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/hazardous-materials-removal-workers.htm (visited August 29, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. This tab may also provide information on earnings in the major industries employing the occupation.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's Career InfoNet.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.