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How to Become a Hazardous Materials Removal Worker

Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers learn on the job. They take at least 40 hours of mandatory Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training. There are no formal educational requirements beyond a high school diploma.


To become an emergency and disaster response worker or a treatment, storage, and disposal worker, candidates must have a federal license that OSHA requires. Employers are responsible for ensuring that employees complete a formal 40-hour training program, given either in house or in OSHA-approved training centers. The program covers health hazards, personal protective equipment and clothing, site safety, recognizing and identifying hazards, and decontamination.


Workers who treat asbestos and 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.

In some cases, workers may discover one hazardous material while dealing with another. If workers are not licensed to handle the newly discovered material, they cannot continue to work with it. Many experienced workers opt to take courses in additional types of hazardous material removal to avoid this situation.

Training is most extensive for decommissioning and decontamination workers employed at nuclear facilities. In addition to getting a license through the standard 40-hour training course in hazardous waste removal, workers must take courses dealing with regulations about 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. To keep their license, workers in all fields must take continuing education courses each year.

OSHA does not regulate mold removal, but each state does.


There is no formal education requirement, but most hazardous materials removal workers entering the occupation have a high school diploma. High school math courses are helpful, as are general vocational technical education courses. Additionally, there are several associate’s degree programs related to radiation protection.

Work Experience

To work at some nuclear facilities, workers must have 2 years of related work experience. Experience in the U.S. Navy and internships related to associate’s degree programs often count, as does experience working as a janitor at a nuclear facility.

For other workers in this occupation, a background in construction is helpful because much of the work is done in buildings.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Hazmat removal workers must follow safety procedures closely and keep records of their work. For example, workers must track the amount and type of waste disposed, equipment used, and number of containers stored.

Math skills. Workers must be able to do 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.

Stamina. The work that hazmat crews do can be strenuous. Hazmat removal workers stand and scrub equipment for hours at a time to remove toxic materials.

Teamwork. Most workers in this occupation work in crews. Because the work is highly structured, with each crew member assigned a particular task, ability to work with others and take instruction is important.

Troubleshooting skills. Hazmat removal workers must be able to quickly diagnose the contents of a spill or leak and choose the proper method for cleaning up. For example, when a chemical tanker overturns, workers must find out what was spilled, decide if evacuation is needed, and clean up the site.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition