Manufacturing chemicals usually is a continuous process; this means that, once a process has begun, it cannot be stopped when it is time for workers to go home. Split, weekend, and night shifts are common, and workers on such schedules usually are compensated with higher rates of pay. As a result, the average workweek in the chemical industry was 42.1 hours in 2002, 2.0 hours longer than the average for nondurable manufacturing industries, and 8.4 hours longer than the average for all private industries. The industry employs relatively few part-time workers.
Most jobs in chemical manufacturing, except drugs, are in large establishments. The largest 20 percent of establishments that employed 50 or more workers in 2002 had over 80 percent of the industry’s jobs. The plants usually are clean, although the continually running machines sometimes are loud and the interior of many plants can be hot. Hardhats and safety goggles are mandatory and worn throughout the plant.
Hazards in the chemical industry can be substantial, but they generally are avoided through strict safety procedures. Workers require protective gear and extensive knowledge of the dangers associated with the chemicals being handled. Body suits with breathing devices designed to filter out any harmful fumes are mandatory for work in dangerous environments.
In spite of the hazards of working with chemicals, extensive worker training on handling hazardous chemicals and chemical company safety measures have resulted in injury and illness rates for some segments of the chemical industry that are much lower than the average for the manufacturing sector. The chemical industry (including pharmaceuticals) reported just 3.3 cases of work-related injury or illness per 100 workers, compared with an average of 7.2 cases for all manufacturing industries in 2002.