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Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eY0gkkIPi4.
Quick Facts: Hazardous Materials Removal Workers
2019 Median Pay $43,900 per year
$21.11 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, 2019 45,300
Job Outlook, 2019-29 8% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2019-29 3,700

What Hazardous Materials Removal Workers Do

Hazardous materials removal workers identify and dispose of harmful substances such as asbestos, lead, and radioactive waste.

Work Environment

Work environments for hazmat removal workers vary. Completing projects may require night and weekend work. Overtime is common for some workers, particularly for those who respond to emergencies or disasters.

How to Become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker

Hazmat removal workers typically need a high school diploma and are trained on the job. Workers may complete training that follows Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Some hazmat removal workers need federally or state-mandated training, licensing, or permits, depending on the type of waste remediation.

Pay

The median annual wage for hazardous materials removal workers was $43,900 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of hazmat removal workers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.

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 harmful substances, such as asbestos, lead, mold, and radioactive waste. 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 tools and 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 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 facilities that are closed or decommissioned (taken out of service).

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 following 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 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 remove 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. Asbestos abatement workers use scrapers or vacuums to remove asbestos from buildings. Lead abatement workers operate sandblasters, high-pressure water sprayers, and other tools to remove paint.

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 45,300 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of hazardous materials removal workers were as follows:

Remediation and other waste management services 60%
Waste treatment and disposal 11
Construction 7

Working conditions vary with the hazardous material being removed. For example, workers removing lead or asbestos often spend time in confined spaces or at great heights and must bend or stoop to remove the material. Workers responding to emergency and disaster scenarios may be outside in all types of weather.

Asbestos and lead abatement workers typically are in buildings being renovated or torn down, or in confined spaces.

Hazmat removal work may be physically demanding and strenuous.

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 for several hours at a time, which may be hot and uncomfortable. For extremely toxic cleanups, hazmat removal workers also are required to wear respirators to protect themselves from airborne particles or noxious gases. 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 is common for some workers, especially for those who respond 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.

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 typically need a high school diploma and are trained on the job. They must complete training that follows federal, state, and local standards.

Education

Hazmat removal workers typically need a high school diploma.

Training

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.

Advancement

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.

Important Qualities

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.

Pay About this section

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Median annual wages, May 2019

Construction and extraction occupations

$47,430

Hazardous materials removal workers

$43,900

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for hazardous materials removal workers was $43,900 in May 2019. 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 $29,100, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $74,650.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for hazardous materials removal workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Construction $46,190
Waste treatment and disposal 44,750
Remediation and other waste management services 43,310

Apprentices are paid less than fully trained hazmat removal workers. Apprentices receive pay increases as they advance through the apprenticeship program. 

Most hazmat removal workers are employed full time. Overtime is common for some workers, especially for those who respond to emergency and disaster situations.

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.

Job Outlook About this section

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Hazardous materials removal workers

8%

Construction and extraction occupations

4%

Total, all occupations

4%

 

Employment of hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, 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.

Job Prospects

About 5,600 openings for hazmat removal workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force.

Because hazmat removal is often project based, downtime may occur depending on project type. For example, nuclear abatement workers may have downtime after completing a project and before they are assigned to a new nuclear abatement project.

Employment projections data for hazardous materials removal workers, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Hazardous materials removal workers

47-4041 45,300 49,000 8 3,700 Get data

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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 on Entry-Level Education 2019 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
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 $36,000
Firefighters

Firefighters

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

Postsecondary nondegree award $50,850
Insulation workers

Insulation Workers

Insulation workers install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings or mechanical systems.

See How to Become One $44,180
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 to transfer or treat water or wastewater.

High school diploma or equivalent $47,760

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

Mine Safety and Health Administration

Occupational Safety & Health Administration

U.S. Department of Energy

U.S. Department of Transportation

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, Hazardous Materials Removal Workers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/hazardous-materials-removal-workers.htm (visited November 30, 2020).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, September 1, 2020

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. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

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 CareerOneStop.

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).

2019 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 2019, the median annual wage for all workers was $39,810.

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, 2019

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2019, which is the base year of the 2019-29 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2019-29

The projected percent change in employment from 2019 to 2029. The average growth rate for all occupations is 4 percent.

Employment Change, 2019-29

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

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 2019-29

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2019 to 2029.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2019 to 2029.

2019 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 2019, the median annual wage for all workers was $39,810.