By Fraser Sherman Updated March 21, 2019
When you work in pipeline welding, you go to where the jobs are. Oil and gas companies can’t bring the pipelines in for repair, so you travel to the pipeline, whether it’s in Alaskan ice, desert heat or underground. Welder working conditions are tough, but the pay reflects that.
Pipeline Welding Duties
Wherever there are pipelines – oil industry, natural gas, water and sewer – there’s a need for pipeline welding. Professional welders may work on a assembling new pipes, or making repairs to old ones. A given job involves studying the pipeline or the specification, figuring out the dimensions of the weld and using arc welders or similar equipment to carry it out.
The work is less predictable than many welding careers because pipeline welders hop from job site to job site. If you don’t want to travel a lot, this may not be the job for you. Work hours for a welder often run into overtime.
Welder Working Conditions
Workers in any branch of welding are at high risk for injury or illness. The intense light from arc welders and other equipment can damage your eyesight, the welding tools generate tremendous heat and there’s a risk of inhaling gases or particles from the welding process. You can reduce the risk by following safety procedures and wearing equipment such as protective lenses and heat resistant gloves. work
Pipeline welding takes this a step further and offers tougher welder working conditions than other welding gigs.
- Some pipeline jobs take place at extreme temperatures. Subzero temperatures in the far north put you at risk for frostbite, while desert work threatens heat stroke.
- Sewer pipeline welding will have you working around some of the most disgusting gunk in the world. To do your job, you have to control your gag reflex at the smells you’ll encounter, and avoid contaminating yourself.
- Making welds often requires you hold your equipment in awkward, difficult positions.
- Underwater welding happens in environments where human beings can’t survive, let alone work, without special equipment.
Underwater Pipeline Welding
Applying your welding skills underwater takes you into what’s probably the most challenging pipeline welding environment. Typically, you work in a dry chamber set up to house three welders without allowing water in. The chamber has to be pressurized to minimize pressure sickness, with fans pumping water in and out.
If you have to work in the water, it’s even tougher. Between bubbles and dim light, it’s difficult to see what you’re doing, and the water at the sea bottom is intensely cold. On the upside, the pay reflects the high level of risk.
Becoming a Pipeline Welder
Operating an arc welder is not something you want to do without training. Learning the secrets of pipeline welding typically involves a mix of technical education and on-the-job training. Welders typically start out as an apprentice or helper to an established welder who can show them the ropes.
Alongside the hands-on work, you can take welding classes in various colleges, welding schools or the U.S. military. Classes dealing with blueprints, mechanical drawing, metallurgy and electricity are useful too. So are computer classes, as pipeline welding jobs often use them.
Once you acquire technical knowledge and skill, you can take certification classes to prove your ability.
Welding Job Prospects
Fewer people have a taste for pipeline welding compared to other welding jobs. The trade-off for the tough work welder working conditions is that there’s plenty of jobs available. If you grow tired of the work, welding skills and certifications can transfer to welding careers in other fields.
The average pipe welder salary is $56,211, more than the average $44,872 that welders in general make. More challenging gigs, such as underwater welding, can pay considerably more.
About the Author
Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of working life: the importance of professional ethics, the challenges of business communication, workers’ rights and how to cope with bullying bosses. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. You can find him online at frasersherman.com