Hazardous Materials Systems Technology

Hazardous materials professionals take action when dangerous substances pose a threat to the public, workers or the environment. Read on to learn more about education and licensing requirements, earnings and employment opportunities for hazardous materials technicians.

Is Hazardous Materials Systems Technology for Me?

Career Overview

The proper disposal, treatment and transportation of materials that are harmful to humans and the environment are important parts of many industries. The field of hazardous materials systems technology involves substances that are toxic, ignitable, corrosive or reactive. Hazardous materials technicians deal with asbestos, lead, fuel, radioactive waste and polluted soil, among other substances. In this position, your duties may include cleaning up and disposing of harmful or radioactive substances in accordance with safety regulations or decontaminating radioactive facilities.

Career Options

As an expert in hazardous materials systems technology, you could become an abatement worker and remove asbestos or lead from buildings. You might also pursue employment as an emergency responder and be one of the first on the scene when a dangerous substance is spilled after a highway or railway accident. Many hazardous materials workers are employed in waste management and disposal, while others work for governments or specialized contractors. You might also get hired at nuclear facilities, incinerators, landfills and hospitals.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in hazardous materials removal were expected to increase by an average rate of 14% nationwide between 2012 and 2022. The BLS also reported that hazardous materials removal workers earned an average annual salary of $42,220 as of May 2013 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Hazardous Materials Systems Technology?

Educational Requirements and Options

You'll need a high school diploma or GED to get an entry-level job in hazardous materials systems technology. Some apprenticeship programs, such as those offered by the Laborers' International Union of North America, provide training in this area. Relevant certificate or associate degree programs can also be found at some community or vocational colleges and may include the study of environmental science or hazardous materials management. Once enrolled, you'll learn about federal and state regulations that cover the handling, transport and disposal of hazardous materials; you'll also receive training in recordkeeping, as mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Degree and certificate programs may also cover topics in fire science, emergency response, toxicology and terrorist threats. You might also complete general education courses in biology, math, chemistry and algebra, which can be transferred to a bachelor's degree program in hazardous materials systems technology. Some schools offer associate's degree programs in nuclear energy or radiation protection technology that may qualify you for work as a radiation protection technician. Course topics can include reactor operations, radioactive substances, radiation detection and electricity.

Required Skills

To succeed in hazardous materials systems technology, you'll need the ability to assess situations efficiently and quickly and respond accordingly. An attention to detail, good judgment and an aptitude for math, chemistry and mechanics are also important skills for technicians. Physical strength and stamina are essential to handle the rigors of the job and extensive work hours. This field also requires clear thinking in emergency situations and current knowledge of safety regulations.

Licensing

Along with on-the-job training, OSHA requires technicians to be licensed; additional training and licensing may be needed for specialized work, such as nuclear material decontamination, or to become a hazardous materials instructor. Continuing education will be necessary to maintain licensure.

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