How to Become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker
Hazmat removal workers take at least 40 hours of mandatory Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training.
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. 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.
Hazmat removal workers need a high school diploma. Although not required, associate’s degree programs related to radiation protection may help candidates seeking positions in nuclear facilities.
Hazmat removal workers receive comprehensive training on the job. Training generally includes a combination of classroom instruction and field work. In the classroom, they learn safety procedures and the proper use of personal protective equipment. While on site, 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 is given either in-house or in OSHA-approved training centers. It 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 and work requirements set by state or federal agencies on handling that material. For example, employees who only have a license for mold removal can only work on mold remediation.
Workers who treat asbestos or lead, the most common contaminants, must complete an employer-sponsored training program that meets OSHA standards. Employer-sponsored training is usually given in-house, and the employer is responsible for covering all technical and safety subjects outlined by OSHA.
Extensive training is required for decommissioning and decontamination workers employed at nuclear facilities. In addition to completing the hazardous waste removal training that meets OSHA standards, workers must take courses on nuclear materials and radiation safety as mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
These courses add up to about 3 months of training, although most are not taken consecutively. Many agencies, organizations, and companies nationwide 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 also have permit or license requirements, particularly for mold remediation and 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 their license, 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 the U.S. Navy or experience working as a janitor at a nuclear facility may be helpful.
Decision-making skills. Hazmat removal workers identify materials in a spill or leak and choose the proper method for cleaning up. For example, when a chemical tanker overturns, workers must decide if evacuation is needed, and clean up the site.
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. Depending on the size and type of the cleanup, hazmat removal workers may use sandblasters, power washers, or earthmovers to clean contaminated sites.
Physical stamina. Hazmat cleanup work can be strenuous. For example, workers may have to stand and scrub equipment or surfaces for hours at a time to remove toxic materials.