California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

   Hazardous Materials Removal Workers in California

May also be called: Hazardous Waste Removers; Hazard Waste Handlers; HazMat Workers; Remediation Workers

Specialties within this occupation include: Asbestos Abatement Workers; Decommissioning and Decontamination Workers; Decontamination Technicians; Emergency and Disaster Response Workers; Irradiated Fuel Handlers; Lead Abatement Workers; Radiation Protection Technicians; Radiation Safety Technicians; Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Workers

What Would I Do?

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers,* or HazMat Workers, identify and remove hazardous materials. This includes packaging, transporting, and disposing of various hazardous materials. They may remediate, or clean up, asbestos, radioactive and nuclear materials, arsenic, mold, lead, and mercury. Hazardous Materials Removal Workers typically specialize in the removal of one or more substances.

Mold remediation is a common HazMat Worker removal activity. It is required when mold infests a building to such degree that extensive efforts must be taken to remove it safely. Mold can be found in heating and air-conditioning ducts, within walls, and in showers, attics, and basements. The clean up of mold on a large scale is usually handled by HazMat Workers who must limit the spread of mold spores while removing the contaminated materials. They run air filtration devices to remove the contaminated air, apply chemicals to destroy the mold, and possibly repair structures damaged by mold. This care must be taken because mold killed by chemicals is still capable of causing health issues in humans. Smaller projects are often undertaken by other construction workers.

Asbestos Abatement Workers and Lead Abatement Workers remove materials like asbestos and lead from buildings scheduled to be fixed up or torn down. Asbestos and lead are two of the most common contaminants that Hazardous Materials Removal Workers encounter. Through the 1970s, asbestos was used to fireproof roofing and flooring, for heat insulation, and for a variety of other purposes.

Lead was commonly found in paint, plumbing fixtures, and pipes until the late 1970s. Often Lead Abatement Workers apply a chemical to strip the lead-based paint from the walls. Once the chemical compound dries, Workers scrape the hazardous material into a secure container for transport and storage. They also use sandblasters and high-pressure water sprayers to remove lead from larger structures. Workers remove the asbestos and lead from surfaces using a variety of hand and power tools, such as vacuums and scrapers.

Decontamination Technicians do the same work as janitors and cleaners, but the items and areas they clean are radioactive. They use brooms, mops, and other tools to clean exposed areas and remove exposed items for decontamination or disposal. Some of these jobs are now being done by robots controlled by people away from the contamination site.

Decommissioning and Decontamination Workers remove and treat radioactive materials created by nuclear facilities and power plants. They break down contaminated items, such as those used to process radioactive materials, using a variety of hand tools.

Disaster Response Workers remove or limit the contamination of hazardous materials. Examples of their work sites include train derailments, trucking accidents, and any attacks by biological or chemical weapons.

Radiation Protection Technicians use radiation survey meters and remote devices to locate and assess radiated materials. They also operate high-pressure cleaning equipment and package radioactive materials for transportation or disposal.

Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Workers transport and prepare materials for treatment or disposal. They follow laws enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). At incinerator facilities, Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Workers move materials from the customer or service center to the incinerator, where they are burned. At landfills and disposal centers, they follow a strict procedure for the processing and storage of hazardous materials. They organize and track the location of items in the landfill and may help change the material from liquid to solid in preparation for storage.

Tools and Technology

HazMat Workers use a variety of tools and equipment, depending on the job. Equipment ranges from brooms to personal protective suits. Workers often wear gloves, hardhats, shoe covers, safety glasses, chemical-resistant clothing, face shields, and devices to protect their hearing. To protect themselves from particles in the air or harmful gases, workers wear respirators. These range from simple versions that cover only the mouth and nose to self-contained suits with their own air supply.

Green Economy

The emerging green economy activities and technologies will most likely have an effect on the types of materials and tools that HazMat Workers use. While the main goals of the job remain the same, the methods to remove hazardous waste will likely change to become more environmentally friendly.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

*This product was partially funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration. The information contained in this product was created by a grantee organization and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. All references to non-governmental companies or organizations, their services, products, or resources are offered for informational purposes and should not be construed as an endorsement by the Department of Labor. This product is copyrighted by the institution that created it and is intended for individual organizational, non-commercial use only.

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Follow prescribed safety procedures, and comply with federal laws regulating waste disposal methods.Public Safety and Security
Record numbers of containers stored at disposal sites, and specify amounts and types of equipment and waste disposed.Written Expression
Drive trucks or other heavy equipment to convey contaminated waste to designated sea or ground locations.Depth Perception
Operate machines and equipment to remove, package, store, or transport loads of waste materials.Operation and Control
Load and unload materials into containers and onto trucks, using hoists or forklifts.Control Precision
Clean contaminated equipment or areas for re-use, using detergents and solvents, sandblasters, filter pumps, and steam cleaners.Arm-Hand Steadiness
Construct scaffolding or build containment areas prior to beginning abatement or decontamination work.Information Ordering
Apply bioremediation techniques to hazardous wastes to allow naturally occurring bacteria to break down toxic substances.Operation Monitoring
Identify or separate waste products or materials for recycling.Near Vision
Process e-waste, such as computer components containing lead or mercury.Selective Attention
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

HazMat Workers interact with substances that can catch fire, eat away at materials, and cause serious health risks. To minimize the danger they face, crews and supervisors take every safety measure to ensure that the worksite is safe, planning each phase of operation in advance. No matter what hazardous materials they work with, HazMat Workers must stand, bend, and kneel for long periods. They also may climb, push, carry heavy objects, or work in confined spaces. Some must wear fully enclosed personal protective suits for several hours at a time.

HazMat Workers face different working conditions, depending on their area of expertise. Many work a standard 40-hour week. Overtime and shift work are common for some such as Emergency and Disaster Response Workers who travel to various work sites.

Asbestos and Lead Abatement Workers usually work in structures such as schools or historic buildings under restoration. Because they are under pressure to complete their work within certain deadlines, workers may experience fatigue. Completing projects frequently requires night and weekend work, because HazMat Workers often work around the schedules of others.

Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Workers are employed primarily at facilities such as landfills, incinerators, boilers, and industrial furnaces. These facilities often are located in remote areas, so workers may have to commute long distances to their jobs.

Decommissioning and Decontamination Workers and Radiation Protection Technicians work at nuclear facilities and electric power plants. These sites are often far from urban areas. These Workers may perform jobs in cramped conditions and may need to use sharp tools to dismantle contaminated objects.

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers may be required to travel in order to respond to emergency cleanups. It can take several days or weeks to complete these projects.

Some may belong to unions, such as truck drivers of hazardous materials and construction laborers.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker may appeal to those who enjoy working with a team on well planned projects. Those who like working with details may enjoy this occupation. A HazMat Worker must have great self-control and a level head to cope with the daily stress related to handling hazardous materials. They should also be physically fit to use the equipment required for the job and perform manual labor.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers in California is $39,406 annually, or $18.95 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$32,748$39,406$49,834
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits generally include medical, dental, and vision insurance as well as vacation and retirement plans. Initial training and refresher courses are provided by employers. Some offer tuition reimbursement. Certain HazMat Workers receive regular physicals provided by the employer.

What is the Job Outlook?

Increased public awareness and federal and State regulations are resulting in the removal of more hazardous materials. These materials are removed from buildings and the environment. This is to prevent further contamination of natural resources and to promote public health and safety. Many HazMat Workers are not affected by changes in the economy because the facilities in which they work must operate. Superfund projects are federally recognized sites requiring long-term effort to clean up hazardous materials. They push demand for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers. Therefore, employment growth will largely be determined by federal funding.

The increased pressure for cleaner electric generation facilities will probably drive the need for Decontamination Technicians, Radiation Safety Technicians, and Decommissioning Workers. Renewed interest in nuclear power production could lead to the reactivation of additional facilities. This would result in the need for many new remediation workers.

Since the 1970s, asbestos and lead-based paints and plumbing fixtures and pipes have not been used. Much of the clean up of asbestos and lead-based paints already has taken place. Therefore, the number of structures that contain asbestos and lead has decreased, which reduces the need for Asbestos and Lead Abatement Workers. Some demand, however, will result from the need to remove lead and asbestos from federal and historic buildings.

Applicants who have already had the HazMat training will find improved job opportunities as some employers prefer to hire those who have previously been trained. Also, those who have been certified to handle several different hazardous materials may find more job opportunities.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Hazardous Materials Removal Workers is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers are expected to increase by 15.6 percent, or 700 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Hazardous Materials Removal Workers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
4,5005,20070015.61,000
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 70 new job openings per year is expected for Hazardous Materials Removal Workers, plus an additional 100 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 170 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Hazardous Materials Removal Workers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
70100170
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

No formal education beyond a high school diploma is required for a person to become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker. In fact, some employers do not require a high school diploma. However, federal, State, and local government standards require specific types of on-the-job training. Regulations vary by specialty and sometimes by locality.

Employers are responsible for employee training. Hazardous Materials Removal Workers usually need at least 40 hours of formal on-the-job training, called HAZWOPER training. They also must receive annual refresher training. HazMat Workers who treat asbestos and lead must complete a training program through their employer that meets the OSHA and EPA standards.

Those who transport hazardous materials must have training in the requirements of the materials they carry. They must also have regular HazMat training.

Decommissioning and Decontamination Workers employed at nuclear facilities receive the most extensive training. They must take courses dealing with regulations governing nuclear materials and radiation safety as required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These courses add up to approximately three months of training, although most are not taken one right after the other. Many organizations throughout the country provide training programs that are approved by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and other regulatory bodies.

Early Career Planning

Recommended high school courses include science, math, and English. For Asbestos and Lead Abatement Workers, much of the work is done in buildings, so a background in construction is helpful which can be obtained through Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

In some cases, Workers may discover one hazardous material while removing another. If Workers are not licensed to handle the newly discovered material, they cannot continue to work with it. To be able to work with a variety of hazardous materials, many experienced Workers opt to take courses in additional types of hazardous material removal to avoid this situation. To maintain certifications, Workers in all fields are required to take continuing education courses as a refresher, every year.

Licensing and Certification

Those who transport hazardous materials in California must have a commercial driver license with a hazardous materials, HazMat, endorsement. This can be gained through testing at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. To obtain or renew a HazMat endorsement, applicants must pass a background check or security threat assessment through the Transportation Security Administration. Transporters of hazardous waste must also hold a valid registration from the Department of Toxic Substances which is renewable each year.

To become an Emergency and Disaster Response Worker or a Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Worker, candidates must obtain a federal license as mandated by OSHA. Employers are responsible for providing employees with a formal 40-hour training program. Employers give the training in house or in OSHA-approved training centers.

Decommissioning and Decontamination Workers employed at nuclear facilities must obtain licensure through the standard 40-hour training course in hazardous waste removal. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

There are various certifications required for those who work with hazardous materials depending upon the substance and removal activities involved with the materials. For example, the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) certificate is required to work with hazardous materials. Employers provide the training for HAZWOPER and certify completion of the training. To maintain this basic certificate, annual refresher training is required and supplied by the employer. Numerous other training programs are possible depending upon the needs of the employer. For example, some workers may be required to operate equipment such as a forklift and need a forklift certification, which can be obtained from the employer.

Contractors need to obtain a Hazardous Substances Removal Certification from the California Contractors State License Board if they work with asbestos or hazardous substance removal. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Hazardous Materials Removal Workers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Waste Management and Remediation Service 90.8%
Local Government 3.3%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Hazardous Materials Removal Workers.

  • Asbestos
  • Decontamination
  • Environmental Services
  • Hazardous
  • Mold
  • Remediation

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers may advance, with additional training, to supervisors. Experienced HazMat Workers may also become trainers. With experience, Decontamination Technicians can advance to Radiation Protection Technician jobs. Experienced Asbestos Abatement Workers can become Certified Asbestos Consultants. These Consultants do such things as inspect buildings, plan the removal project, and supervise Site Surveillance Technicians. Site Surveillance Technicians are the on-site representatives of Asbestos Consultants who do such things as monitor the asbestos removal activities and air.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Hazardous Materials Removal Workers with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
GlaziersGuide
Maintenance Workers, MachineryProfile
Mine Cutting and Channeling Machine OperatorsProfile
Rotary Drill Operators, Oil and GasProfile
Tank Car, Truck, and Ship LoadersProfile
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck DriversGuide
Light Truck or Delivery Services DriversGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification47-4041
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Hazardous Materials Removal Workers47-4041.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RCI
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Hazardous Materials Management & Waste Technology/Technician150508
   Construction Trades, Other 469999
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Environmental Technology030300
   Public Works210210