Chemical Plant Process Worker

The Job and What's Involved

Chemical plant process workers monitor and control plant and equipment used to process, mix and manufacture chemical products.

The chemical industry produces materials that help to make a wide range of items from pharmaceuticals and cleaning products to toiletries and plastics. Its products are essential for the manufacture of items such as medicines, DVD's, computers and cars. The clothing and fashion industry also relies on dyes and man-made fibres produced by chemical companies.

The work varies depending on the type of equipment that is being used, but a process worker's job is likely to involve:

  • Monitoring meter and instrument readings.
  • Reporting any changes in machine performance.
  • Opening and closing valves.
  • Testing small samples of the product to make sure it meets quality standards.
  • Making sure health and safety requirements are observed.

Other jobs may include:

  • Cleaning and preparing equipment.
  • Measuring out ingredients and adding them to the reaction tanks in the correct sequence.
  • Controlling heating and cooling equipment.
  • Starting up and closing down the plant.
  • Pouring the finished products into barrels, container lorries or railway trucks.

Some of the work can be repetitive, and some tasks require process workers to follow precise written procedures and formulas. Operations are usually overseen by qualified engineers. Today, much of the work is computer-controlled.

Process workers may have to carry out minor maintenance work and report more serious faults to an engineering maintenance fitter.

Chemical plant process workers usually work 37.5 hours a week. Plants normally operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so shifts are standard. This may involve night and weekend work, and there may be opportunities for overtime. Shifts may be as long as 12 hours.

Process plants may be partly covered or totally enclosed, so the work can be inside or outside. Many tasks are carried out from a computer control room, which is dry, clean and usually air-conditioned.

The chemical processes may create dirt, dust or fumes, but health and safety regulations usually mean plants are well-ventilated and clean.

The work may involve climbing stairs and walking long distances, possibly along catwalks high above the ground. Sitting or standing for long periods, and lifting, may also be required.

Some chemicals are hazardous, so process workers wear protective overalls, helmets, boots and goggles when necessary.

Salaries for chemical plant process workers may start at around £14,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The chemical industry is one of the UK's largest manufacturing industries. Around 95,000 people are employed as process plant workers, although numbers have been declining.

Chemical companies can be found throughout the UK. The heaviest concentrations of industry are in Scotland and the north of England. Employers range from multinational chemical and oil companies to specialist small and medium-sized businesses.

Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers and Jobcentre Plus offices. Applications are usually made directly to a company's head office or to the local operations plant.

Education and Training

Applicants aged 16 or over can join the chemical industry directly, usually as a trainee or apprentice.

There are no set educational requirements, although basic numeracy and literacy skills are important. Most employers ask for at least three GCSE's/S grades (A-D/1-4) in English, maths and a science subject.

Applicants may be asked to take numeracy and general aptitude tests, and undergo a medical to make sure they are fit enough to perform the job. Regular medical examinations may be carried out throughout employment.

Good eyesight and normal colour vision are needed to read meters, dials and instrument charts.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

New entrants receive on-the-job training in health and safety, and basic chemical processes. Trainees may shadow an experienced worker, watching what they do and learning from them, before carrying out set tasks under supervision.

Training also covers personal safety, such as how to use breathing apparatus, general first aid, and how to work effectively and safely in confined spaces.

Apprenticeships usually combine work-based training with college study. They lead to relevant NVQ's/SVQ's, such as:

  • Chemical, Pharmaceutical and Petro-Chemical
    Operations at Levels 1 to 4.
  • Processing Operations: Hydrocarbons at Levels 1 to 3.
  • Polymer Processing and Related Operations at
    Levels 1 to 3.

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As an ambulance technician you would respond to accident and emergency calls, as well as a range of planned and unplanned non-emergency cases. You would usually work in a team, providing support to a paramedic during the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of patients at the scene of an incident and during hospital transfers.

You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Chemical plant process workers need:

  • To be prepared to work to a set routine.
  • To be patient, careful and methodical.
  • To be meticulous, with an eye for detail.
  • Good communication and reading skills.
  • To be able to react quickly if a problem arises.
  • Computer skills.
  • To be safety-conscious.
  • To work well in a team, and be responsible enough to patrol the plant on their own.
  • To be physically fit.

Your Long Term Prospects

Some process workers may go on to study for HNC's/HND's or degrees, with a view to progressing into more senior roles in the chemical industry.

Promotion could be from plant worker to plant controller, senior controller and shift supervisor. Plant managers are usually graduate chemists or chemical engineers.

There may be opportunities to work abroad, especially with multinational companies.

Get Further Information

Chemical Industries Association (CIA),
Kings Buildings, Smith Square, London SW1P 3JJ
Tel: 020 7834 3399
Website: www.cia.org.uk

Royal Society of Chemistry,
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA
Tel: 020 7437 8656
Website: www.rsc.org

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