Operators Make The Grade With Certification

In a profession that requires juggling complex solid waste issues, increasing federal and state regulations and the pressures of an outspoken public, many are beginning to wonder why there isn't a comprehensive national program to certify landfill operators.

A growing number of state policies and procedures are designed to provide thorough training. Wisconsin's recently adopted certification requirements outline the need for "efficient, nuisance-free and environmentally acceptable solid waste management procedures" - starting with the state's landfill operators.

Landfill operators don't have to be experts in all areas of landfill management, but since they are responsible for the environmental and economic health of their facilities, they must have a basic knowledge of all the issues involved.

Since 1992, when only 28 percent of U.S. states had certification programs in place, seven of the 10 states that had planned to implement their own programs have actually done so. Today, 20 states have established landfill certification programs.

Certification is the process by which a government, nongovernmental agency or association lets an individual who has met predetermined qualifications use a specific title. Two forms of certification are:

* Government title control or statutory certification or registration, in which individuals who engage in the regulated occupation without being certified are prohibited from using a given title or from calling themselves "certified" or "registered"; and

* Voluntary, or non-governmental control, in which professionals and trade groups establish their own programs to recognize qualified individuals in specialized areas of practice, or who have attained entry-level or superior competence in a given occupation.

In order to set up a licensing or certification program, the agency, association or business must establish criteria, such as whether landfill managers need a college degree, 10 years' experience, a training course or simply an examination.

Virginia recently enacted regulations that require all landfill managers in the state to be certified by January 1, 1995. To qualify for certification, the applicant must be at least 18 years old and either:

* Have a high school diploma, GED, 10 years of facility-specific experience or 7 years of non-related work experience;

* Complete a basic training course on state solid waste regulations and a facility-specific examination;

* Show proof of specific training after January 1, 1989; or

* Hold valid certification from another state.

The state of Washington requires landfill managers to attend a training course, complete an examination and pay a fee. They also can receive credit for comparable training.

Wisconsin's regulations require 28 hours of training in areas such as general landfill theory and design, general operations and maintenance, monitoring and reporting requirements, health and safety, employee training and heavy equipment management.

The Solid Waste Association of North America offers a Manager of Landfill Operations (MOLO) training course, which includes 16 lessons, both in the classroom and in field exercises. The lessons cover the role of landfills in integrated MSW management; siting MSW landfills; landfill design considerations; waste acceptance and screening; leachate, landfill gas and settlement; compliance inspections; landfill closure and postclosure; landfill economics; state regulations; and safety and security issues.

All SWANA instructors are practicing landfill design engineers or managers. The field exercise component gives students a chance to visit a local landfill and see presentations on landfill gas management, groundwater monitoring, soil utilization and landfill operations.

Since it began in 1987, SWANA's program has trained 6,000 managers and certified 2,000 managers. The association does not currently impose an educational or job history requirement for its certification program; any landfill manager is eligible for MOLO. If you are not currently a landfill manager, but become one within six months, you can be grandfathered into the certification program. If you fail to pass the certification exam, you can retest at a later date. SWANA will present about 10 MOLO training courses in the year ahead.

Currently, SWANA's voluntary program is the only one nationally recognized for landfill certification. The certification is valid if managers move to another state, which is increasingly important as more states require it. Even in states that don't require certification, the training can be advantageous when competing for a job opening.

Expanding Certification Landfills aren't the only waste management facilities that could benefit from certification programs. Managers of collection operations, transfer stations, materials recovery facilities, recycling systems and compost facilities also should be trained. While landfills are expensive, collecting waste and recyclables reportedly accounts for an estimated 50 to 60 percent of waste management costs.

To meet this need, SWANA has initiated three new certification programs: Manager of MSW Recycling Systems, Manager of Integrated MSW Systems and Manager of Transfer Station Operations.

Properly trained operating-level personnel (laborers, equipment operators and truck drivers) also are critical to a quality operation. With sophisticated solid waste systems and facilities, stringent regulations, increased liability and employee job security concerns, training and certification have become more important than ever.

The process may be tedious at first, but the long-term rewards are worth it. In the public and private sectors, regulatory compliance and professional development depend on a landfill manager's willingness to learn and grow.