What Is a Chemical Plant Operator?

Research what it takes to become a chemical plant operator. Learn about education requirements, job duties, median salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Chemical Plant Operator?

Chemical plant operators work with and maintain plant equipment and hazardous chemicals under strict safety guidelines. They monitor plant equipment using flowmeters, panel lights and other indicators. In cases of emergency, they shut down the system under the direction of supervisors. A large part of this job involves inspecting equipment and tanks to ensure they are in good working condition. See the table below for some quick career facts about chemical plant operators.

Degree Required High school diploma at minimum; associate's degree for better job opportunities
Education Field of Study Chemical technology
Training Required On-the-Job
Key Responsibilities Operate and maintain plant equipment, follow safety protocols, transport chemical materials and assist supervisors or technicians to fix problems
Projected Job Outlook (2014-2024) -9% (for chemical plant and system operators)*
Median Salary (2015) $59,320 (for chemical plant and system operators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Chemical Plant Operator?

As a chemical plant operator, you'll run plant equipment and make sure it is operating safely and efficiently. You may transport materials, check equipment, monitor production and keep operating records. You may work with supervisors or technicians to fix problems or troubleshoot issues in production.

Your job may involve watching gauges and monitoring chemical reactions to ensure a stable and uniform process. You may also monitor to prevent emergency situations from arising. If there is an emergency, you may have to shut down equipment and alert others of the issue. You may be in charge of operating equipment to remove hazardous materials and to clean contaminated areas.

What Training Do I Need?

Training for this position usually takes place on the job. During on-the-job training, you may learn how to operate equipment controls, testing processes, chemical handling and record preparation.

You can also earn an associate's degree in chemical technology to prepare for this job and make yourself more attractive to potential employers. In a chemical technology program, you'll learn the skills needed to operate chemical plant equipment. You'll get a general education, which includes courses in chemistry, computers and math. You'll also get detailed training in chemical processes, technology, chemical methods, safety and testing. For greater employment opportunities in this career, you need to be familiar with computers and have formal training.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) chemical plant and system operators may see a 9% decline in employment from 2014 to 2024. The decline is due to advances in technology which make equipment more efficient and increases the number of computer-operated machines that don't need trained operators. The decline is also attributed to the trend in the industry to reduce costs and cut jobs. The movement towards becoming more environmentally friendly has also impacted the industry, causing a reduction in the number of jobs.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators and gaugers have very similar jobs compared to chemical plant operators, but in petroleum refining plants rather than chemical plants. They must keep an eye on gauges and indicators, operate technical equipment, and respond to emergency situations when they arise. Gas compressor and gas pumping station operators handle compressors that transmit, compress or recover gases. These workers also need to monitor, operate and maintain equipment that processes and stores potentially harmful substances, such as butane, hydrogen and natural gas. Most of the employees in these careers have a high school diploma or equivalent and gain the necessary skills through on-the-job training.

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