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.

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.

What Do Hazardous Material Removal Workers Do?

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, 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.

Career Snapshot

Identify, remove, pack, transport, or dispose of hazardous materials, including asbestos, lead-based paint, waste oil, fuel, transmission fluid, radioactive materials, or contaminated soil. Specialized training and certification in hazardous materials handling or a confined entry permit are generally required.

(Similar job titles for this sub-sector include:  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)

Job Details

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

Education and Experience

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.

Career Outlook

  • Annual pay: Hazmat Removal Workers earned an average of approximately $44,000 in May of 2019
  • Employment growth forecast 2018-2028: 11%
  • Entry-level education: High school diploma to enter the field

Career Growth Opportunity

Some employers prefer candidates who have experience in the construction trades—workers such as construction laborers and helpers.

Professional Associations

  • International Hazmat Association - This organization works to ensure high quality IHM preparations by setting good quality standards and filling gaps of the current practices and international guidelines.
  • North American Hazardous Materials Management Association - A volunteer-run, non-profit organization, NAHMMA is committed to pollution prevention, product stewardship, and the safe and effective handling of hazardous materials from households and small businesses.
  • Hazmat Resource Organizations - IAFC (Intl. Association of Fire Chiefs) provides a long list of hazmat resources links.
  • Nuclear Energy Institute - NEI's mission is to promote the use and growth of nuclear energy through efficient operations and effective policy.
  • Dangerous Goods Advisory Council - This organization is an international, non-profit educational organization that promotes safe and efficient transportation of hazardous materials in domestic and international commerce.
  • American Trucking Association, Hazardous Materials - ATA works to ensure laws and regulations governing the transportation of hazardous materials promote the safe and efficient movement of these materials.
  • United Steelworkers - The United Steelworkers 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 advocate for ‘better workplaces, better lives for everyone and a better world’.
  • The Associated General Contractors of America - The AGC of America works to ensure the continued success of the commercial construction industry by advocating for federal, state and local measures that support the industry; providing opportunities for firms to learn about ways to become more accomplished; and connecting them with the resources and individuals they need to be successful businesses and corporate citizens.
  • Sisters in the Brotherhood - Sisters in the Brotherhood is a group dedicated to strengthening the UBC by promoting activism and diversity and by increasing the number of women members.
  • National Center for Construction Education and Research - NCCER is a non-profit education foundation.  It was developed with the support of more than 125 construction CEOs and various association and academic leaders who united to revolutionize training for the construction industry. Sharing the common goal of developing a safe and productive workforce, these companies created a standardized training and credentialing program for the industry.

Publications

Programs/Training

Employers may require workers to have completed OSHA Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) training.

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.

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. To maintain licensure, workers must take continuing education courses each year. For more information, check with the state’s licensing agency.

For information about training and regulations mandated by federal agencies: