Stationary engineers and boiler operators control stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment.
What they do
Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically do the following:
- Operate engines, boilers, and auxiliary equipment
- Read gauges, meters, and charts to track boiler operations
- Monitor boiler water, chemical, and fuel levels
- Activate valves to change the amount of water, air, and fuel in boilers
- Fire coal furnaces or feed boilers, using gas feeds or oil pumps
- Inspect equipment to ensure that it is operating efficiently
- Check safety devices routinely
- Record data and keep logs of operation, maintenance, and safety activity
Most large commercial facilities have extensive heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems that maintain comfortable temperatures all year long. Industrial plants often have additional facilities to provide electrical power, steam, or other services. Stationary engineers and boiler operators control and maintain boilers, air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment, turbines, generators, pumps, and compressors.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators start up, regulate, repair, and shut down equipment. They monitor meters, gauges, and computerized controls to ensure that equipment operates safely and within established limits. They use sophisticated electrical and electronic test equipment to service, troubleshoot, repair, and monitor heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators also perform routine maintenance. They may completely overhaul or replace defective valves, gaskets, or bearings. In addition, they lubricate moving parts, replace filters, and remove soot and corrosion that can make a boiler less efficient.
In a large building or industrial plant, a senior stationary engineer or boiler operator may be in charge of all mechanical systems in the building and may supervise a team of assistant stationary engineers, assistant boiler tenders, and other operators or mechanics.
In small buildings, there may be only one stationary engineer or boiler operator who operates and maintains all of the systems.
Some stationary engineers and boiler operators are exposed to high temperatures, dust, dirt, and loud noise from the equipment. Maintenance duties may require contact with oil, grease, and smoke.
Workers spend much of their time on their feet. They also may have to crawl inside boilers and work while crouched, or kneel to inspect, clean, or repair equipment.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators risk injury on the job. They must follow procedures to guard against burns, electric shock, noise, dangerous moving parts, and exposure to hazardous materials.
Most stationary engineers and boiler operators work full time during regular business hours. In facilities that operate around the clock, engineers and operators may work either one of three 8-hour shifts or one of two 12-hour shifts on a rotating basis. Because buildings such as hospitals are open 365 days a year and depend on the steam generated by boilers and other machines, many of these workers must work weekends and holidays.
How to become a Stationary Engineer and Boiler Operator
Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and are trained either on the job or through an apprenticeship program. Many employers require stationary engineers and boiler operators to demonstrate competency through licenses or company-specific exams before they are allowed to operate equipment without supervision.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators need at least a high school diploma. Students should take courses in math, science, and mechanical and technical subjects.
With the growing complexity of the work, vocational school or college courses may benefit workers trying to advance in the occupation.
Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically learn their work through long-term on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced engineer or operator. Trainees are assigned basic tasks, such as monitoring the temperatures and pressures in the heating and cooling systems and low-pressure boilers. After they demonstrate competence in basic tasks, trainees move on to more complicated tasks, such as the repair of cracks or ruptured tubes for high-pressure boilers.
Some stationary engineers and boiler operators complete apprenticeship programs sponsored by the International Union of Operating Engineers. Apprenticeships usually last 4 years, include 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, and require 600 hours of technical instruction. Apprentices learn about operating and maintaining equipment; using controls and balancing heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; safety; electricity; and air quality. Employers may prefer to hire these workers because they usually require considerably less on-the-job training. However, because of the limited number of apprenticeship programs, employers often have difficulty finding workers who have completed one.
Experienced stationary engineers and boiler operators update their skills regularly through training, especially when new equipment is introduced or when regulations change.
Some state and local governments require licensure for stationary engineers and boiler operators. These governments typically have several classes of stationary engineer and boiler operator licenses. Each class specifies the type and size of equipment the engineer is permitted to operate without supervision. Many employers require stationary engineers and boiler operators to demonstrate competency through licenses or company-specific exams before they are allowed to operate the equipment without supervision.
A top-level engineer or operator is qualified to run a large facility, supervise others, and operate equipment of all types and capacities. Engineers and operators with licenses below this level are limited in the types or capacities of equipment they may operate without supervision.
Applicants for licensure usually must meet experience requirements and pass a written exam. In some cases, employers may require that workers be licensed before starting the job. A stationary engineer or boiler operator who moves from one state or city to another may have to pass an examination for a new license because of regional differences in licensing requirements.
The median annual wage for stationary engineers and boiler operators was $62,150 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,080.
Employment of stationary engineers and boiler operators is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations.
Steam is an important and cost-effective way to fuel machinery and to provide utilities in large facilities. Workers will be needed for routine maintenance and to ensure that the equipment is working properly.
Similar Job Titles
Boiler Operator, Boiler Technician, Building Engineer, Operating Engineer, Plant Operator, Plant Utilities Engineer, Stationary Engineer, Stationary Steam Engineer, Utilities Operator
Control and Valve Installer and Repairer (except Mechanical Door), Maintenance and Repair Worker-General, Gas Plant Operator Transportation Vehicle/Equipment and Systems Inspector (except Aviation), Gas Compressor and Gas Pumping Station Operator
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Boiler Manufacturers Association - ABMA's mission is to lead and unite the boiler industry through advocacy, education, awareness, and our commitment to provide solutions to our members.
- International Union of Operating Engineers - IUOE is a trade union representing workers from the heavy equipment operators and mechanics in the construction industry, to the stationary engineers—those who maintain and operate building and industrial complexes and service industries throughout the United States and Canada.
- National Association of Power Engineers - This organization’s mission is to bring new information and technology to power engineers across the country through education to ensure safe and responsible engineering practices.
Magazines and Publications
- Today’s Boiler Magazine (ABMA)
- International Operating Engineer (IUOE)
- Engineer Systems Magazine
- Treatment Plant Operator Magazine
Most large buildings have extensive heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems that keep interiors comfortable. Industrial plants also have facilities for electrical power or steam to operate equipment. Stationary engineers and boiler operators control the stationary engines, boilers, and other mechanical equipment that provides utilities both for buildings and for industry. Workers typically monitor water levels, read gauges and meters, and ensure furnaces and boilers have fuel. They also monitor safety devices and keep maintenance logs. Engineers and operators are often exposed to heat, dirt, grease, and smoke. They spend much of their time on their feet, and may spend hours kneeling or crouching to crawl inside boilers and clean or repair equipment. With a high level of injury risk, engineers and boiler operators must follow procedures to guard against burns, electric shock, noise, and exposure to hazardous materials. Most stationary engineers and boiler operators work regular full time business hours. However, in 24/7 facilities such as hospitals, engineers and operators may work 8-hour shifts or 12-hour shifts on a rotating basis, and work weekends and holidays. Stationary engineers and boiler operators typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and are trained either on the job or through an apprenticeship program. Many employers require licensure or passing a company-specific exam before an operator is allowed to work unsupervised.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org