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Hazardous Materials Specialist
Hazardous materials specialists work to ensure that hazardous materials are handled and controlled in a safe manner and in compliance with regulatory requirements. They can be involved in a variety of activities, for example responding to emergencies, safely disposing of hazardous substances, reclaiming sites, or contributing to the development of legislation for hazardous materials. Hazardous materials specialists acquire their skills through formal education, specialized training, and work experience. Their expertise is essential to the protection of public health and the environment.
At a glanceImagine you are sitting in an emergency vehicle with sirens blaring and lights flashing as you race to the scene of a collision. You are a hazardous materials specialist and a member of your city's hazmat emergency response team. You have been called from your regular duties to assess a potentially dangerous situation. According to officials on the scene, a fertilizer truck carrying dangerous goods was broadsided by another vehicle, and the damaged fertilizer tanker is leaking an odorous substance into the streets. As a hazardous materials specialist, you have responded to dozens of scenes like this, and you know how to get the job done safely. Once you arrive at the wreck, you put on your hazmat suit and adjust your breathing apparatus—every inch of your body is covered and protected. Now you are ready to cross police barriers and approach the collision site. The team's manager will be directing the team from outside the hot zone; you watch that person carefully for instructions. First, you are told to take a quick look around the scene to determine if there are any obvious hazards, such as telephone lines or open gas lines, that could pose additional problems for the hazmat team. Next, you look for dangerous goods placards on the tanker, which will tell you what the truck was hauling, along with the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that have information on the substance, including what to do in an emergency. Other team members have been working on stopping the leaking tanker and containing the spill. Once the substance has been confirmed and you know what you're dealing with, you and your team can begin cleaning up and disposing of the fertilizer.
Job dutiesDuties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a hazardous materials specialist:
- Conduct inspections of hazardous materials facilities for compliance with provincial or federal storage, handling, and transportation regulations.
- Review inventory statements and procedures from businesses responsible for handling, storing, or transporting hazardous materials.
- Collect samples and other evidence of hazardous materials violations, including photographs, records, witnesses, and responsible-party interviews.
- Oversee the testing of emergency response plans and respond to spills and accidents in conjunction with fire departments.
- Advise on and participate in clean-ups and investigations.
- Review submitted samples, plans, and results for compliance with provincial and federal laws.
- Classify hazardous materials and provide input on management plans.
- Interpret and update existing legislation and provide input on drafting new regulations.
- Determine outcomes and performance measures for hazardous waste management plans.
- Write certificates of approval for recycling, treatment, and disposal facilities
Work environmentHazardous materials specialists work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
- Doing paperwork, analyzing data, and preparing reports
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, and government officials
- Researching hazardous materials regulations and consulting with other professionals
- Touring and inspecting industrial, commercial, and institutional sites
- Collecting samples and information
- Conducting emergency clean-ups
- Conducting studies or investigations, including site drilling and testing
- Participating in specialized training
Where to workThere are a number of places hazardous materials specialists can find employment. They include:
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Environmental and engineering consulting firms
- Waste management and recycling firms
- Firms in industries that generate hazardous waste, for example health care, mining, forestry, and petroleum
Education & requirementsIf you are a high school student considering a career as a hazardous materials specialist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Computer Science
- Occupational Health and Safety
- Health Sciences
- Environmental Health
- Environmental Science
- Pure and Applied Science
- Chemical Engineering
- Environmental Engineering Technology
- Hazardous materials specialists also require specialized hazmat training.