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Hazardous materials are substances – asbestos, nuclear waste, toxic compounds – that can hurt humans, animals or the environment. "Hazmat" professionals specialize in dealing with hazardous materials from manufacture to final disposal. Many other workers – truck drivers shipping hazmat loads for instance – need training in hazmat handling and hazardous materials regulations. Hazmat certification is available, but it isn't mandatory in the way a doctor needs a medical license. Hazmat training, however, is often mandatory for workers in the field.
Understand Hazardous Materials Regulation
We live in a world where dangerous substances crop up in many places and in many industries. Hazmat regulation is spread out among multiple organizations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines hazmat as any substance that's a health hazard or physical threat, including:
- Corrosive chemicals
- Agents that damage the lungs or eyes
- Combustible chemicals
- Unstable substances
- Chemicals that can produce harmful gas, fumes or smoke from normal handling
The Environmental Protection Agency uses OSHA's definition. It also includes chemicals that cause harm to people, plants or animals when released into the environment. The Department of Transportation defines hazardous materials as anything posing a risk to public safety or the environment during shipping. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's definition covers radioactive material. Each agency has its own set of hazmat regulations, and others do too.
Getting Hazmat Training
Different jobs require different hazmat training, overseen by different agencies. If you're in charge of storing the corrosive chemicals your firm uses in manufacturing, you look to OSHA; DOT oversees hazardous materials regulation for trucking and shipping. Your employer should be able to tell you what training you need.
DOT regulations, for example, say no business can accept a hazardous material for transportation unless it's registered and has a hazmat shipping permit. The hazmat shipment must be labeled, described and packaged in accordance with DOT hazardous materials regulation. The DOT also requires employees involved in hazmat shipping to undergo training. That includes not only the drivers, but the staff who classify materials to decide if they're hazmat; the people who design, buy or fill the packages; the workers who label the packages; and the crew that handles the shipment in the warehouse or on the loading dock.
Going to Hazmat School
The hazmat employer decides what level of hazmat training each employee needs, but the DOT has some guidelines:
- All hazmat employees must have a general understanding of hazmat transportation.
- Employees must be trained in any specific skills they need to meet hazardous materials regulations.
- They need safety training for emergencies.
- They must be trained to spot potential terrorist threats.
EPA and OSHA may have added rules for hazmat training. They also have training rules for situations when transportation isn't an issue, such as in chemical labs or factories.
Fortunately, employers and workers have a variety of options for hazmat school. There are a number of companies that offer workshops or online courses to meet the government's requirements.
Getting Hazmat Certification
Hazmat professionals are a step up. A company's hazmat manager oversees and supervises the company's handling of hazardous materials, from creation to destruction. You don't need certification to work as a hazmat manager, but it might help your career to have one. The Institute of Hazardous Materials Management offers certification in several hazmat fields, from management to shipping to hazmat training.
The qualifications the institute requires vary with the certification. To become a certified hazmat manager, for instance, you need a college degree and a minimum of five years experience in hazmat work.