Material Moving Occupations - What They Do
Think about a common bicycle; over the course of its creation many workers have to transport a variety of materials to get it to your local store. First, the raw metal must be produced, either from a mine where an excavator operator digs into the earth to gather rocks with the proper minerals and places them on a conveyor operated by a conveyor tender; or by a recyclable material collector that picks up unwanted metal household goods. Next, the metal is refined in a foundry, at which point a crane operator or hoist and winch operator may place it on a trailer for shipping. After arriving at a factory, an industrial truck operator unloads the metal and a machine feeder loads it into a machine for production. After being assembled, the bicycle is placed into a box by a hand packager and then moved into a tractor trailer by a truck loader. Many products, like this bicycle, are handled by a variety of workers because, even with the use of machinery, moving goods and materials around worksites still requires significant human effort. Material moving workers are generally categorized into two groups—operators, who control the machines that move materials, and laborers, who move materials by hand.
Operators use machinery to move construction materials, earth, petroleum products, and other heavy materials. Generally, they move materials over short distances—around construction sites, factories, or warehouses. Some move materials onto or off of trucks and ships. Operators control equipment by moving levers, wheels, or foot pedals; operating switches; or turning dials. They also may set up and inspect equipment, make adjustments, and perform minor maintenance or repairs.
Laborers and hand material movers move freight, stock, or other materials by hand; clean vehicles, machinery, and other equipment; feed materials into or remove materials from machines or equipment; and pack or package products and materials.
Industrial truck and tractor operators drive and control industrial trucks or tractors that move materials around warehouses, storage yards, factories, construction sites, or other worksites. A typical industrial truck, often called a forklift or lift truck, has a hydraulic lifting mechanism and forks for moving heavy and large objects. Industrial truck and tractor operators also may operate tractors that pull trailers loaded with materials, goods, or equipment within factories and warehouses or around outdoor storage areas.
Excavating and loading machine and dragline operators tend or operate machinery equipped with scoops, shovels, or buckets to dig and load sand, gravel, earth, or similar materials into trucks or onto conveyors. These machines are primarily used in the construction and mining industries. Dredge operators excavate waterways, removing sand, gravel, rock, or other materials from harbors, lakes, rivers, and streams. Dredges are used primarily to maintain navigable channels but also are used to restore wetlands and other aquatic habitats; reclaim land; and create and maintain beaches. Underground mining loading machine operators load coal, ore, or rock into shuttles and mine cars or onto conveyors. Loading equipment may include power shovels, hoisting engines equipped with cable-drawn scrapers or scoops, and machines equipped with gathering arms and conveyors.
Crane and tower operators use mechanical boom and cable or tower and cable equipment to lift and move materials, machinery, and other heavy objects. Operators extend and retract horizontally mounted booms and lower and raise hooks attached to load lines. Most operators are guided by other workers using hand signals or a radio. Operators position loads from an onboard console or from a remote console at the site. Although crane and tower operators are noticeable at office building and other construction sites, the biggest group works in manufacturing industries that use heavy, bulky materials. Operators also work at major ports, loading and unloading large containers on and off ships. Hoist and winch operators control movement of cables, cages, and platforms to move workers and materials for manufacturing, logging, and other industrial operations. They work in positions such as derrick operators and hydraulic boom operators. Many hoist and winch operators are found in manufacturing or construction industries.
Pump operators tend, control, and operate pump and manifold systems that transfer gases, oil, or other materials to vessels or equipment. They maintain the equipment and regulate the flow of materials according to a schedule set up by petroleum engineers or production supervisors. Gas compressor and gas pumping station operators operate steam, gas, electric motor, or internal combustion engine-driven compressors. They transmit, compress, or recover gases, such as butane, nitrogen, hydrogen, and natural gas. Wellhead pumpers operate pumps and auxiliary equipment to produce flows of oil or gas from extraction sites.
Tank car, truck, and ship loaders operate ship-loading and ship-unloading equipment, conveyors, hoists, and other specialized material-handling equipment such as railroad tank car-unloading equipment. They may gauge or sample shipping tanks and test them for leaks. Conveyor operators and tenders control and tend conveyor systems that move materials to or from stockpiles, processing stations, departments, or vehicles. Shuttle car operators run diesel or electric-powered shuttle cars in underground mines, transporting materials to mine cars or conveyors.
Laborers and hand freight, stock, and material movers manually move materials and perform other unskilled, general labor. These workers move freight, stock, and other materials to and from storage and production areas, loading docks, delivery vehicles, ships, and containers. Their specific duties vary by industry and work setting. In factories, they may move raw materials or finished goods between loading docks, storage areas, and work areas, as well as sort materials and supplies and prepare them according to their work orders. Specialized workers within this group include baggage and cargo handlers—who work in transportation industries—and truck loaders and unloaders.
Hand packers and packagers manually pack, package, or wrap a variety of materials. They may label cartons, inspect items for defects, stamp information on products, keep records of items packed, and stack packages on loading docks. This group also includes order fillers, who pack materials for shipment, as well as gift wrappers. In grocery stores, they may bag groceries, carry packages to customers' cars, and return shopping carts to designated areas.
Machine feeders and offbearers feed materials into or remove materials from equipment or machines tended by other workers.
Cleaners of vehicles and equipment clean machinery, vehicles, storage tanks, pipelines, and similar equipment using water and cleaning agents, vacuums, hoses, brushes, or cloths.
Refuse and recyclable material collectors gather refuse and recyclables from homes and businesses into their trucks for transport to a dump, landfill, or recycling center. They lift and empty garbage cans or recycling bins by hand or, using hydraulic lifts on their vehicles, pick up and empty dumpsters. Some in this group drive the large garbage or recycling truck along the scheduled routes.
Material moving work tends to be repetitive and physically demanding. Workers may lift and carry heavy objects and stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl in awkward positions. Some work at great heights and some work outdoors—regardless of weather and climate. Some jobs expose workers to fumes, odors, loud noises, harmful materials and chemicals, or dangerous machinery. To protect their eyes, respiratory systems, and hearing, these workers wear safety clothing, such as gloves, hardhats, and other safety devices such as respirators. These jobs have become less dangerous as safety equipment—such as overhead guards on lift trucks—has become common. Accidents usually can be avoided by observing proper operating procedures and safety practices.
Material movers generally work 8-hour shifts—though longer shifts are not uncommon. In industries that work around the clock, material movers may work overnight shifts. Some do this because their employers do not want to disturb customers during normal business hours. Refuse and recyclable material collectors often work shifts starting at 5 or 6 a.m. Some material movers work only during certain seasons, such as when the weather permits construction activity.
Material movers generally learn skills informally, on the job, from more experienced workers or their supervisors. Many employers prefer applicants with a high school diploma or GED, but most simply require workers to be at least 18 years old and physically able to perform the work.
Workers who handle toxic chemicals or use industrial trucks or other dangerous equipment must receive specialized training in safety awareness and procedures. Many of the training requirements are standardized through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but training for workers in mining is regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). This training is usually provided by the employer. Employers also must certify that each operator has received the training and evaluate each operator at least once every 3 years.
For other operators, such as crane operators and those working with specialized loads, there are some training and apprenticeship programs available, such as that offered by the International Union of Operating Engineers. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction.
Seventeen States and 6 cities have laws requiring crane operators to be licensed. Licensing requirements typically include a written test as well as a skills test to demonstrate that the licensee can operate a crane safely.Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Some types of equipment operators can become certified by professional associations, such as the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, and some employers may require operators to be certified.
Material moving equipment operators need a good sense of balance, the ability to judge distances, and eye-hand-foot coordination. For jobs that involve dealing with the public, such as baggers or grocery store courtesy clerks, workers should be pleasant and courteous. Most jobs require basic arithmetic skills, the ability to read procedural manuals, and the capacity to understand orders and other billing documents. Experience operating mobile equipment—such as tractors on farms or heavy equipment in the Armed Forces—is an asset. As material moving equipment becomes more advanced, workers will need to be increasingly comfortable with technology.