Steel mills evoke images of strenuous, hot, and potentially dangerous work. While many dangerous and difficult jobs remain in the steel industry, modern equipment and facilities have helped to change this. The most strenuous tasks were among the first to be automated. For example, computer-controlled machinery helps to monitor and move iron and steel through the production processes, reducing the need for heavy labor. In some cases, workers now monitor and control the equipment from air-conditioned rooms.
Nevertheless, large machinery and molten metal can be hazardous unless safety procedures are observed. Hardhats, safety shoes, protective glasses, earplugs, and protective clothing are required in most production areas.
Cases of occupational injury and illness in the industry were 8.6 per 100 full-time workers in 2002, higher than the 5.3 cases per 100 workers for the entire private sector and slightly higher than the 7.2 cases per 100 for all of manufacturing.
The expense of plant and machinery and significant production startup costs force most mills to operate around the clock, 7 days a week. Workers averaged 43 hours per week in 2002, and only about 2 percent of workers are employed part time. Workers typically work varying shifts, switching between working days one week and nights the next. Some mills operate two 12-hour shifts, while others operate three 8-hour shifts. Overtime work during peak production periods is common.