Hazardous materials removal workers play an important role in the industrial, commercial and environmental industries. Their main responsibility is to identify, remove and dispose of toxic and radioactive wastes left over from various manufacturing processes or from accidents. They are often employed to deal with a number of different wastes which may include lead, arsenic, mercury, asbestos and nuclear by-products. Hazardous materials removal workers are often employed by governmental, industrial and environment agencies to clean up sites or buildings that have been contaminated or to respond to spills or accidents before natural areas become contaminated.
Hazardous materials removal workers often work in highly structured environments to limit their exposure to toxins and waste. Their work often has to be highly planned in advance and they workers are often required to receive a substantial amount of training. Although there are risks associated with this work, safety standards and regulations are strict to ensure that the job is completed successfully and that the worker remains safe at all times.
Due to the increased use of hazardous materials used by industry and the increased number of nuclear facilities producing wastes, their is an increased demand for workers in this field and this trend is expected to rise over the next decade.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top ten percent of individuals employed in this field make approximately $62,500 per year. The bottom ten percent makes approximately $24,180 per year, with the median salary hovering around $37,280 per year. Workers who are employed by remediation and waste removal services earn an average median salary of $40,880 per year, while those employed by state governments make a median salary of approximately $58,850 per year. Hazardous materials removal workers who work for scientific research and development Services, aerospace product and parts manufacturing services, and the federal government make under $57,420 per year.*
Salary expectations for Hazardous materials removal workers also differ according to the state in which the worker is employed. Workers employed in Alaska have some of the highest median salaries, while workers employed in New Mexico have some of the lowest median salaries. Other states that pay their Hazardous materials removal workers a salary that exceeds the national median include Illinois, Nevada, Minnesota and Washington. The states that have the highest concentration of workers in this field are Alaska, Washington, Colorado, South Carolina and New Mexico.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Due to the long hours that workers in this field are expected to work and the hazardous nature of their work, Hazardous Materials Removal Workers are often given overtime and bonuses. They also tend to receive benefits which include sick leave, paid vacation time, health insurance, dental insurance and retirement insurance.
Job Description and Outlook
Hazardous materials removal workers are often employed to use a wide variety of equipment and tools, depending on the work that they are required to accomplish and the environment in which they are working. This equipment can be as basic as push brooms and shovels to as complex as protective suits and decontamination chambers. Because of the dangerous nature of their work, they are often required to wear protective gear such as masks, face shields, gloves and safety boots. Many of these workers are often required to wear respirators while working in order to protect them from dangerous fumes or airborne particles. These respirators can be as simple as a face mask or as complex as a environmental suit with it’s own supply of fresh air.
Two of the most common contaminants that Hazardous materials removal workers have to contend with include lead and asbestos. Lead was a common metal that was used in paint and plumping fixtures up until the late 1970s. Because this metal is easily absorbed into the bloodstream or inhaled through the lungs, it can often cause very serious health problems, particularly in children. Asbestos was a common fiber that was used to fireproof heat insulation and flooring, and like lead was used up until the late 1970s. This material easily embeds in the lungs and can cause a number of health problems which include lung cancer and asbestosis. Though these two materials are no longer used in the construction of newer buildings, there are many older buildings that contain them and must be removed by Hazardous materials removal workers.Workers in this sector of the industry have to remove the products using a variety of tools which include scrapers, putty knives, vacuums and power tools. Other sectors of this industry include mold remediation, nuclear waste removal and human waste removal specialists.
Training and Education Requirements
Formal education beyond a high school diploma is not required for a person to become a hazardous materials removal worker. There is however, extensive on the job training that is required by local, state and federal agencies. Regulations vary from state to state and even vary among specialties. For most specialties workers are expected to receive at least forty hours of on the job training, which is to be provided by the employer. This training must meet stringent local, state and federal regulations.
Special licensing must be obtained for workers who are responsible for the remediation of lead and asbestos. This licensing must meet the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A special federal license must be obtained through OSHA for emergency response workers in this field. This program makes sure that the worker is familiar with the unique requirements of the sector of the field and test knowledge of personal protective equipment, health hazards, identification of hazardous materials and decontamination.
The mediation of mold is not regulated by OSHA, but is regulated by each state individually. For workers engaged in the removal of radioactive materials, certification is the most stringent. Workers must not only have forty hours of training in the removal of nuclear wastes, but they also must take courses on regulations concerning nuclear material and radiation safety. These courses are mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and may take up to three months to complete.
Listed below are the professional associations available for Hazardous materials removal workers:
- Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals (http://www.achmm.org/)
- North American Hazardous Materials Management Association (http://www.nahmma.org/)
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