How to Become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker
Hazmat removal workers learn on the job.
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.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
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.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Hazmat materials removal workers typically do not need related experience to enter the occupation. However, some employers prefer candidates who have experience in the construction trades—workers such as construction laborers and helpers—or in military careers.
Hazmat removal workers may advance to become a supervisor after gaining experience and completing additional training, such as the OSHA HAZWOPER supervisor training. Workers also may advance to different positions within their industry, such as a radiation safety technician later becoming a supervisor in the nuclear power industry. After gaining experience, workers also may choose to start their own hazmat removal business.
Decision-making skills. Hazmat removal workers identify materials in a spill or leak and choose the proper method for safe cleanup.
Detail oriented. Hazmat removal workers must follow safety procedures, understand laws and regulations, and keep records of their work.
Mechanical skills. Hazmat removal workers may operate heavy equipment to clean up contaminated sites and set up machinery needed for remediation.
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 lift and move heavy pieces of materials they are removing from a site.