Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Technician

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Related roles: Hazardous Materials Technician, Hazardous Waste Technician, Hazardous Materials Specialist, Hazardous Materials Response Technician, Environmental Remediation Technician, Environmental Cleanup Specialist, Chemical Spill Response Technician


Similar Titles

Hazardous Materials Technician, Hazardous Waste Technician, Hazardous Materials Specialist, Hazardous Materials Response Technician, Environmental Remediation Technician, Environmental Cleanup Specialist, Chemical Spill Response Technician

Job Description

Humans have a knack for creating dangerous substances! From toxic chemicals and corrosives to medical waste, flammable materials, and explosives, the world produces about 400 million tons of hazardous materials every year. That’s about the same weight as a million Empire State Buildings!

Hazardous waste can be produced during the manufacturing of chemicals, petroleum, coal products, pesticides, fertilizer, iron, and steel. It also comes from waste treatment and disposal, radioactive elements, lead, asbestos, radon gas, arsenic, mercury—the list goes on.

With so many occurrences of hazardous materials, we need experts who know how to safely handle them. That’s where Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Technicians (or HAZWOPERs) come in!

These specially-trained pros make sure dangerous substances don’t jeopardize workers, communities, wildlife, and the environment. HAZWOPERs are also called out to respond to incidents and emergencies, where they can help clean up waste sites, manage spills, and contain or neutralize toxic materials!

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Safely manage and mitigate hazardous material incidents
  • Protect the public, wildlife, and the environment from hazardous substances
  • Acquire valuable skills in emergency response and hazardous waste management
2021 Employment
2031 Projected Employment
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

HAZWOPERs work full time with overtime common due to emergencies or other incident response.

Typical Duties

  • Respond to routine and emergency hazardous material incidents. Assess hazardous situations
  • When applicable, measure or test the hazard level posed by materials (such as radiation levels) using monitoring devices
  • Plan and execute procedures for safely managing and cleaning up hazardous materials
  • Work on teams to prevent exposure/contamination during emergency responses or waste operations
  • Prepare containment areas before starting work
  • Neutralize hazardous substances as needed before cleanup
  • Identify and wear the proper personal protective equipment for the situation (i.e., bodysuits, gloves, face shields, breathing apparatus, etc.)
  • Potentially work in confined spaces, at heights, or in inclement weather
  • Use detergents, chemicals, and/or tools to remove harmful materials from affected surfaces
  • Operate machines or vehicles to assist with cleaning, disposal, and transport
  • Mix concrete to encase waste that will be disposed of, as needed
  • Utilize bioremediation practices on substances that bacteria can safely break down
  • Pack, load, transport, or store waste. Follow strict hazardous waste disposal methods and laws
  • Label and track waste to be removed. Maintain documentation and records of where materials are moved
  • Sort at landfills or other sites, as directed; separate waste that could be recycled

Additional Responsibilities

  • Keep up-to-date on hazardous materials handling procedures and regulations
  • Comply with organizational, state, and federal policies or regulations regarding safety, ethical, and legal requirements
  1. Examples of federal agencies include the Environmental Protection 
    Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Work closely with team leaders and members to ensure the overall job and all tasks are carried out safely and properly 
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Active listening
  • Compliance-oriented
  • Coordination
  • Critical thinking
  • Detail-oriented
  • Monitoring
  • Patience
  • Planning and organization
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Safety-minded
  • Strong communication skills
  • Sound judgment
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

Technical Skills

  • Familiarity with chemicals including solvents and cleaners
  • Operation of hoists, forklifts, cranes, or trucks and bobcats (if needed)
  • Physical strength and stamina.
  • Safety and emergency response protocols (such as using emergency showers and eyewash stations)
  • Safe use of hand and power tools, such as vacuums, sandblasters, high-pressure sprayers, etc.)
  • Use of appropriate personal protective equipment and related gear
  • Use of hazardous material monitoring equipment
  • First aid/CPR
  • Incident Command System
  • National Incident Management System
  • OSHA lockout/tagout
  • Confined space entry and rescue
  • Knowledge of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
Different Types of Organizations
  • Chemical plants
  • Construction sites
  • Emergency response service providers
  • Governmental and environmental agencies
  • Hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Mining operations
  • Oil spill cleanup sites
  • Private contractors
  • Remediation and waste management services
  • Superfund sites
Expectations and Sacrifices

Over the decades, there have been numerous environmental disasters involving toxic substances which affected the health and lives of hundreds or even thousands of people. In some cases, exposure can be so bad that it makes an area uninhabitable for years.

That’s why Hazardous Materials Removal Workers are very important jobs, which can involve responding to situations quickly. Shifts can run long when there’s a big, urgent job, and sometimes workers will try to take shortcuts during cleanup efforts. HAZWOPER Technicians, however, must take their time and ensure the job is done right, not only for safety reasons but also because violations can lead to expensive fines.

Obviously, hazardous waste is dangerous, so they also have to follow safety rules closely to avoid personal risk. They’re also expected to neutralize and clean all affected surfaces swiftly and effectively, so waste doesn’t impact other workers, the local community, nearby wildlife, or the environment in general. 

Current Trends

The safe removal of hazardous material is a priority for the Environmental Protection Agency, OSHA, and many other governmental organizations. It’s also a matter of significance to private companies which can be hit with citations and massive fines for failing to comply with proper waste disposal rules.  

For example, in 2023, chemical manufacturer 3M was ordered to pay “$10.3 billion to settle lawsuits over contamination of many U.S. public drinking water systems with potentially harmful compounds.”

In 2021, the State of California sued Walmart for “illegal disposal of hazardous waste” such as “alkaline and lithium batteries, insect killer sprays and other pesticides, aerosol cans, toxic cleaning supplies, electronic waste, latex paints, and LED light bulbs” dumped in landfills.  

Clearly, the pressure is on companies to strictly comply with state and federal regulations designed to protect workers, the public, the environment, and wildlife.

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger…

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers may have enjoyed being outdoors or engaged in physical activities when they were younger. They may have also liked working as part of a team striving toward a common goal such as in sports. 

Education and Training Needed
  • Hazardous Materials Removal Workers must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or GED
  • Workers don’t need a college degree but must complete a training course based on OSHA standards
  • Employers determine the appropriate number of training hours (usually at least 40) covering:
  1. Site Safety and Health Personnel
  2. Hazards Identification
  3. Personal Protective Equipment
  4. Minimizing Risk Work Practices
  5. Safe Use of Controls and Equipment
  6. Medical Surveillance
  7. Safety and Health Plan Contents
  • Training programs must meet OSHA’s HAZWOPER standards. Many classes can be done online, but some might require a practical, hands-on component
  • Additional training is needed for respirator wear, nuclear materials, OSHA lockout/tagout, confined space entry and rescue, and other special areas
  1. Managers and supervisors must also complete extra training
  2. Related work experience, such as in construction, may help HAZWOPERs learn faster
  • State-issued permits or licenses are necessary to work with or transport certain waste materials, such as asbestos and lead. These permits/licenses usually require passing an exam and taking continuing classes
  • Workers may need to learn how to operate hoists, forklifts, cranes, or trucks. Training is usually provided
  • HAZWOPERs use various hand and power tools, such as vacuums, sandblasters, high-pressure sprayers, etc. Training is usually provided
  • First aid/CPR
  • Some positions may require knowledge of the Incident Command System and National Incident Management System
  • Optional certifications include:
  1. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration - Hazardous Material Endorsement
  2. Institute of Hazardous Materials Management - Certified Hazardous Materials Practitioner
  3. International Board for Certification of Safety Managers - Certified Hazard Control Manager
Things to look for in an University
  • HAZWOPERs don’t need a college degree. Training is often provided by employers and through applicable governmental agencies, as needed. However, students can sign up for courses in hazardous materials management and waste technology at a community college or vocational/trade school if they want to pursue a certificate or associate degree. Courses and programs should meet OSHA requirements.
  • Those who want to qualify for higher-level positions may earn a bachelor’s in hazmat management or environmental science later. 
Things to do in High School and College
  • Pay attention during high school math and chemistry classes, and volunteer for student activities where you can learn about teamwork and project management
  • Take shop classes to get used to working with hand and power tools or snag a part-time job in construction
  • Volunteer for construction projects in your community, such as with Habitat for Humanity
  • Engage in a physical exercise program to develop the strength and stamina needed for this job
  • Learn the various types of hazmat environments and career options. Try to decide which area you want to work in
  • Review job postings and look for opportunities in your area that provide training
  • Consider going a Hazardous Materials Removal Workers apprenticeship
  • If needed, knock out a few hazmat-related classes or a certificate at a vocational school or community college to help boost your credentials
  • Workers may need to possess a valid driver’s license, so if you don’t have one, you might want to study and take the test to get a license
Typical Roadmap
Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Technician Roadmap
How to land your 1st job
  • Employers may provide all training necessary, but some want workers with prior experience or specialized certifications
  • Get practical work experience under your belt before applying, if possible. Jobs related to construction, cleaning, or working with tools and equipment will look good on an application!
  • Look for apprenticeship opportunities related to hazmat or construction
  • Check out job portals such as Indeed, Simply Hired, and Glassdoor, as well as Craigslist or the career pages of organizations you’re interested in working for
  • Let your network know you are looking for work. Many job opportunities are still discovered through personal connections and word-of-mouth!
  • Ask former supervisors and peers if they’ll serve as personal references
  • You might not need a resume to apply, but check out HAZWOPER Technician resume templates to get ideas
  • Study Hazardous Materials Removal Worker interview questions to prepare for those interviews
  • The day-to-day work attire for hazmat workers isn’t fancy, but dress professionally for job interviews!
  • If you don’t have a driver's license, you might need one because many jobs require operating a motor vehicle
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Talk with your supervisor about advancement paths. Let them know you’re willing to take the steps needed to move up
  • Actively seek out a mentor who can help develop your career
  • HAZWOPERs may get promoted after gaining enough experience and completing OSHA supervisor training
  • Complete advanced certifications when the time is right
  1. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Hazardous Material Endorsement
  2. Institute of Hazardous Materials Management’s Certified Hazardous Materials Practitioner
  • If you don’t have one, consider earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree
  • Acquire high-tech skills in digital tools and technologies such as 
    Geographic Information Systems or data analysis software
  • Request to learn how to operate any tools, equipment, or vehicles that might help you advance
  • Volunteer to tackle a complex or high-visibility project
  • Try to work in various settings, such as government agencies, private industries, or non-profits, to broaden your experience. But also seek to specialize in a high-demand area, like industrial waste management, emergency response, or toxic materials handling
  • Build trust by taking your job seriously, following protocols, setting an example when it comes to safety, and demonstrating that you’re ready for more responsibility
  • Collaborate effectively on teams and demonstrate leadership
  • State-issued permits or licenses are necessary for some roles, so obtain your permits/licenses as soon as you can
  • Grow your professional network by joining unions and other organizations. Go to workshops or seminars. Write articles for industry journals
Plan B

Being a HAZWOPER means long hours, a lot of compliance with safety protocols, and potential exposure to harmful waste which can have long-term health effects. It’s an important job but may not be right for everyone.

If you want to explore a few related occupations, the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests the following:

  • Construction Laborer    
  • Firefighter
  • Insulation Worker    
  • Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operator
  • Ordnance Handling Expert
  • Highway Maintenance Worker
  • Recycling and Reclamation Worker
  • Refuse and Recyclable Material Collector
  • Septic Tank Servicer and Sewer Pipe Cleaner

You may also be interested in environmental careers such as:

  • Brownfield Redevelopment Specialist
  • Conservation Scientist
  • Construction and Building Inspector
  • Environmental Compliance Inspector
  • Environmental Engineering Technologist
  • Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Officer
  • Environmental Safety Technician
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Fire Inspector
  • Geological Technicians
  • Hazardous Waste Technician
  • Health and Safety Engineer
  • Hydrologist    
  • Industrial Hygienist
  • Materials Scientist
  • Microbiologist    
  • Mining and Geological Engineer
  • Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
  • Public Health Officer
  • Security Manager
  • Water/Wastewater Engineer
  • Water Resource Specialist
  • Wildlife Biologist


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