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Wednesday, 06 April 2011 17:23

Boiler Operator

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Synonyms: Boiler attendant; boiler-room worker; boiler water treater; firer; steam-boiler operator; steam generator operator; steam power plant operator; steam-supply operator

Job profile

Definition and/or description


Operates fuel-fired boilers to generate steam for supply to industrial processes, buildings, etc. Lights gas, oil or solid-fuel fed boilers using torch; regulates flow of fuel and water into the boiler. Observes control panel and regulates temperature, pressure, draft and other operation parameters. Observes boiler and auxiliary units to detect malfunctions and make repairs. Changes burners, pipes and fittings. Tests and treats boiler feed water, using special chemicals, ion-exchange columns, etc. Activates pumps or pressure flow to remove fly ash from hoppers, contaminated water from boiler system, and flush slurry into ash grinder. Assists boiler maintenance crews in maintenance and repair work.



Activating (pumps); adjusting; assembling and disassembling; charging; checking; cleaning (valves, fuel tanks); detecting (malfunctions); filling; firing; fixing; flushing (slurry); installing; lighting; loading and unloading (fuel); maintaining (insulation, etc.); measuring; monitoring, operating; regenerating (ion exchanger resins); regulating (flow, temperature); removing (ash, wastes); repairing; sealing (leaks); screwing; stoking; testing (feed water); treating (feed water); wrenching.

Industries in which this occupation is common


Manufacturing plants and services which require steam for operation, e.g., chemical industry; plastics industry; electrical power plants; steam laundries; hospitals; food industries; shipping; desalination plants; etc.


Accident hazards


– Slips and falls on level surfaces, particularly on floors made slippery by water, fuel, oils, etc.;

– Mechanical accidents when operating pulverizer and stoker in coal-fired boilers;

– Bursting of boilers (because of overheating and overpressure, failure of structural components due to metal fatigue, etc.) with possible fires; injury by the explosion wave, by flying fragments, flames, steam, etc.;

– Fires and explosions of fuel (particularly from fuel leaks); rags soaked with fuel; explosions of gas-air mixtures within the boiler;

– Soot fires;

– Burns from hot surfaces, hot water and escaping steam;

– Electrocution or electric shocks;

– Asphyxia due to breathing oxygen- depleted air;

– Poisoning by carbon monoxide or by other combustion products in the air, particularly in the case of faulty ventilation or inadequate air supply to the burners (acute carbon monoxide poisoning may cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, unconsciousness, coma and death);

– Splashes of hydrazine and its derivatives on the skin may cause penetrating burns and severe dermatitis;

– Splashes into the eyes of chemicals used in the regeneration of ion exchange columns, in derusting and descaling; particularly, splashes of hydrazine and its derivatives may cause permanent corneal lesions.

Physical hazards


Excessive noise levels (as high as 94 dBA).

Chemical hazards


– Pneumoconioses from exposure to vanadium-containing dust and to asbestos from the insulation, particularly during maintenance and repair work, and from exposure to respirable fly ash;

– Dermatoses from exposure to fuels and to corrosion inhibitors (various organic or metallo-organic compounds) and other water additives;

– Irritation of eyes, respiratory tract and skin as a result of exposure to hydrazine and its derivatives, used as additives to boiler water; severe exposure may cause temporary blindness;

– Irritation of the upper respiratory tract and coughing, as a result of inhalation of sulfur dioxide, particularly when burning high-sulfur fuels;

– Exposure to water-treating chemicals and formulations, particularly corrosion inhibitors and oxygen scavengers such as hydrazine; ion-exchange-resin regeneration chemicals, including acids and bases; cleaning, derusting and descaling products and solvents; carbon monoxide; carbon dioxide; nitrogen oxides; sulfur dioxide; dusts containing refractory oxides and vanadium oxide.

Biological hazards


Development of fungi and growth of bacteriae in the boiler room due to the elevated temperature and humidity.

Ergonomic and social factors


– Heat stress;

– General tiredness as a result of physical work in a noisy, warm and humid environment.




  1. According to published reports, boiler attendants may be at increased risk of breast or nasopharyngeal cancer; exposure of boiler operators to hydrazine and its derivatives may cause damage to the lung, liver and kidneys.
  2. Special hazards are encountered when wastes are used as the fuel; the boiler operator may be exposed to a wide variety of hazardous chemicals present in the waste or formed during its burning (e.g., furans, dioxide derivatives, metal fumes, mineral fibres, etc.). Also, the operator may be exposed to bites or stings from parasites, insects and even small animals (e.g., snakes, scorpions) present in the wastes and to bacterial infections.
  3. As boiler rooms are frequently located in basements, a radon exposure hazard may exist in some regions.



American National Standards Institute (ANSI). 1987. Gas-fired Low-pressure Steam and Hot Water Boilers. ANSI Standard Z21.13-87. New York: ANSI.

Parsons, RA (ed.). 1988. Boilers. In ASHRAE Handbook: Equipment. Atlanta, GA: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers.



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