8 tips for transporting hazardous materials

If you work with disabled vehicles, chances are that you could come across a job involving hazardous materials. That doesn’t just mean dealing with radioactive waste, acid, or other largely dangerous substances; it could just pertain to slightly harmful pollutants. So, it’s important for those who do recovery to understand the specific risks, steps, and tools necessary to properly respond to each type of danger. Here are 8 tips for tow truck operators transporting or handling hazardous materials.

What is considered a hazardous material?

There can be a much broader scope of materials that are considered “hazardous” than you initially think. In fact, some of the most common hazardous materials that tow truck operators may come across are:

  • Fuel
  • Coolant
  • Battery acid
  • Other liquids
  • Commercial pool cleaning chemicals
  • Pesticides

8 tips for transporting hazardous materials.

It is therefore vital to be careful around any uncontained substances until the area has been declared safe. As a tow truck operator, though, you may have to get up close and personal to contain the materials and clear the area. These general tips can help you stay as safe as possible:

1. Form a working relationship with your local fire department.

Before even encountering hazardous materials on the job, make sure you have a good working relationship with your local fire department. They have already been specially trained on hazardous materials and can keep you and your drivers informed on current procedures, local issues, and tips to stay prepared for containment and cleanup with their department.

2. Plan to arrive after the police & fire department.

Again, your fellow emergency responders have specific hazardous materials training. This also means that they have the proper tools and countermeasures for the pollutant on hand. Allow them to properly contain the area so that you can more easily and safely do your job.

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3. Position your truck out of the way.

To manage the chaos that may go on with so many emergency responders on-site, keep yourself and your truck at a safe distance until the incident commander says you are needed. Your truck should preferably be parked uphill or upwind from the area so that you’re not exposed to any toxic fumes.

4. Remain cautious.

If you arrive before your other emergency responders, keep a safe distance and assess the situation. If you’re unsure of a substance around a wreck, do NOT attempt to touch, taste, or sniff it to find out what it is. Call 911 and advise them of the situation. The operator will walk you through the proper way to isolate or limit the spread of materials if you can do it safely.

5. Have the right protective gear on-hand.

Typical towing PPE probably won’t offer the right amount of protection when handling hazardous materials. It’s also important to note that not all hazardous materials are labeled. So, if a substance looks suspicious, put on an inhalation mask and, at the very least, latex gloves before approaching.

Ideally, you’ll want to have access to:

  • Leather or “mechanic-type” gloves with double reinforced palms
  • Disposable coveralls
  • An inhalation mask
  • Workboots
  • A hat that can protect you from debris

If you’re in a pinch, doubling up on latex gloves or wearing a pair of latex gloves inside of your normal work gloves will do. You may also use a filter mask to stop yourself from breathing in fumes. Your main goal is to protect your eyes, nose, mouth, and skin from any poisonous or irritating chemicals.

6. Clean up intelligently.

Hazardous materials can mean plenty of chemical reactions during clean up. Traditional methods using soap, water, bleach, and/or clay-based absorbents are starting to phase out of hazardous cleanup processes for various reasons. Soap and water may have adverse reactions with chemicals on the scene. Bleach and bleach-based cleaners can create strong fumes that mix with the fumes of the incident, as well as ruin PPE materials. Clay-based absorbents may also add more breathing hazards and particles to an already dangerous airspace.

If your clothes become contaminated, immediately remove them, place them in a bag, then clean them or throw them away safely. Consider using bio-degradable cleaners for decontaminating clothes and soaking up hazards on the road. This can make clean up easier, quicker, and more cost-efficient.

7. Properly store wrecked hybrids or electric cars.

New developments in electric and hybrid vehicles may have improved driving for normal consumers. However, it has presented new challenges for tow truck operators, especially when the vehicle is out of commission. A wrecked or damaged hybrid or electric car is more prone to battery leakage and fires. It has also been proven that putting out these fires may take more than one attempt and require a large amount of water to do so. Such fires could cause massive damage to your place of business and leave you liable for damage to your clients’ cars.

To prevent these types of fires, store wrecked and damaged hybrid and electric cars outside of buildings and away from any flammable objects. Monitor them regularly for smoke, flames, or weird noises.

8. Get the right insurance.

Towing is one of the most dangerous jobs out there, and the added danger of handling hazardous materials can put your health, trucks, and business at an immediate risk. So, while staying properly prepared and trained to handle hazardous waste, make sure you have the right tow truck insurance coverage to handle any potential aftermath.

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Our professionals know all about the normal and unexpected hazards of towing and how difficult it can be to find the right tow truck insurance for an affordable price. That’s why we’ve formed strong relationships with trusted carriers to give you a wide market of quality coverage to choose from. To start saving on great tow truck insurance for your tow truck business, give us a call, fill out our online form, or LiveChat with an agent today!


Fuerst, Patrick. “Dealing with Hazardous Materials.” Tow Times, Dec.

2019, pp. 20-22.

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