Crucial to any efficient process plants, a well-maintained piping system should be able to transport fluid to different equipment to function collectively through the pipes. Subjected to numerous loading conditions in its lifespan, pipes and piping systems could fail over time, which is why pipefitters and steamfitters play a significant role in the industry. Pipefitters, also known as fitters, could install and maintain pipes that carry acids, chemicals, gases and other waste byproducts through the production process. These pipes are mostly located in commercial, industrial, and manufacturing settings. Fitters often install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings.

There are three known specializations available for pipefitters. Gasfitters are responsible for installing pipes that would deliver natural gas to heating and cooling systems and to stoves. They could also install pipes that provide clean oxygen to patients in hospitals. Meanwhile, steamfitters install pipe systems that transport steam under high pressure. Most steamfitters work at college campuses and natural gas power plants with electricity and heat generation, but others operate in factories that use high-temperature steam pipes.

In addition, sprinkler fitters perform installation and repair of fire sprinkler systems in residential buildings, businesses, and factories. Some workers install stainless steel pipes on dairy farms and in factories, mainly to prevent contamination. With pipes rarely manufactured to the desired length, fitters measure and then cut and bend lengths of pipe as necessary through their tools such as saws and pipe cutters.

Why Become a Pipefitter

Although most pipefitters and steamfitters learn their trade on the job through an apprenticeship, others start out by attending a community college or technical school. Aside from courses about pipe safety design and safety, technical schools also offer welding courses that some pipefitter and steamfitter apprenticeship programs considered necessary for entry-level workers. Several states require a special license to work on gas lines. A few states require license from pipefitters as well. To obtain a license, one must pass a test, gain experience through work, or both.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a growth of twenty one percent for the overall employment of pipefitters from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The construction of new factories and power plants should open job opportunities for pipefitters and steamfitters. The BLS expects the job openings for sprinkler fitters to rise in states that adopt changes to the International Residential Code, which requires new single-family and double-family residential buildings to have fire sprinkler systems. Salary reports indicate that the mean annual wage for the working pipefitters would be about $54,620 as of May 2014.

Pipefitter Work Environment

Most pipefitters and steamfitters work in factories, businesses, and other places where pipes or septic systems are present. It is normal for fitters to often lift heavy materials, climb ladders, and work in tight spaces. Some need to work outdoors, even in bad weather. Pipefitters and steamfitters have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average for all occupations. Common injuries are cuts from sharp tools, falls from ladders, and burns from hot pipes and soldering equipment. Almost all pipefitters and steamfitters work full time, including nights and weekends. In case of emergency, some pipefitters should be ready on call and overtime is also common.

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