Often Overlooked First Responders Are on the Frontlines Fighting COVID-19

COVID-19 Decontamination
COVID-19 Decontamination – Passenger Train

There is a group of men and women fighting on the COVID-19 frontlines who are very often overlooked.  They are  First Responders, but not the first responders you would typically think of.  These First Responders step-up in the face of disasters – hurricanes, chemical releases, earthquakes, oil spills, and yes, even Pandemics. They are the Hazardous Materials Worker (HazMat Workers), and they deserve to be acknowledged for the work they do. They step up when we step back.

There have been four Influenza Pandemics in the last 100 years: 1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009 (H1N1), which the CDC estimated that 151,700-575,400 people worldwide died from (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection during the first year the virus circulated. The COVID-19 Pandemic is a global disaster like no other.  According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 64,549 deaths globally as of April 4, 2020, and a total of 1.2 million confirmed cases.

As of April 4, 2020

HazMat Workers On Disaster Frontlines

In just the past five years, we have witnessed not only many disease outbreaks, but also environmental disasters such as the California Wildfires, Hurricane Dorian, Hurricane Michael, Hurricane Harvey, and severe flooding in Louisiana and California, to name a few.  According to data from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information between 2014 and 2019, there were 5 Wildfires, 42 Severe Storms, 12 Flooding Events, 5 Droughts, and 4 Winter Storms each causing multi-billion-dollars in damage and taking 3,862 lives. 

For every one of these events, HazMat Workers have been on the frontlines doing dangerous work like managing hazardous materials, remediating toxic sites,  and handling bio-hazardous and infectious materials.

Billion-dollar events to affect the U.S. from 2014 to 2019 (CPI-Adjusted)

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2020). https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/,

It’s Tough Work with Long Hours

The work is dangerous and requires long hours during emergency disasters, often requiring night and weekend work.  It is not uncommon in emergency disasters like COVID-19 for HazMat workers to work 12 to 18 hour days.  These workers must wear protective suits for several hours at a time, and yes, they are experiencing the same lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as our healthcare workers are during this Pandemic.

For infectious diseases such as COVID-19, the work involves decontamination and disinfection of facilities such as hospitals, temporary trauma centers, cruise ships, airlines, schools, and anyplace where suspected or known positive cases of COVID-19 exists. This work is crucial to prevent the spread of contamination.

Quick Facts: Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

2018 Median Pay $42,030 per year | $20.21 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Number of Jobs, 2018 45,900
Job Outlook, 2018-28 11% (Much faster than average)


Putting Their Lives at Risk

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Injury and illnesses increased to a rate of 5.5 incidents per 100 full-time employees for hazardous waste and recycling collection workers in 2018, That is nearly double the national rate of 2.8 for all occupations.

HazMat Workers put their lives at risk every day while on the job.  While most of us are facing uncertainty and hunkering down, locked inside during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and in normal times going about our daily business, they are in the line of fire cleaning up environmental disasters, mitigating the spread of infectious diseases, and managing toxic waste. HazMat Workers are hard-working, dedicated members of the First Responder community doing work that makes all of our lives better.

Top HazMat Environmental Services Firms

Significant players in the emergency services of hazardous materials globally include –