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Demolition Worker Job Description, Career as a Demolition Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: None

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

In the construction industry, destroying old structures is just as important as building new ones. Demolition workers tear down anything from high-rise apartment buildings to bridges or factories. Demolition includes blasting, which is the use of explosives, and wrecking with the use of machinery and equipment. Operating engineers, also called heavy equipment operators, and hand laborers usually work for wrecking contractors. Blasters work for wrecking and blasting contractors. They may also work for general contractors helping to build roads, bridges, and dams.

The method of destroying a structure depends on many factors. Demolition workers must take into account what the building is made of—brick, lumber, concrete, or metal. For instance, they may have to use an oxyacetylene torch to cut steel braces in addition to using other wrecking equipment. They also consider the structure's surroundings. Using explosives in urban areas may be too dangerous. Also, local ordinances may restrict or ban the use of explosives.

When it is safe to use explosives, blasters plant and set off explosive charges. They first look at the structure to be blown up. Based on its size, makeup, and location, Although demolition workers often destroy buildings by operating wrecking balls and other machines, sometimes workers take apart buildings by hand, using wrecking bars, sledgehammers, axes, and shovels. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) they decide what kind of and how much explosive to use, and where to plant the charges. They mark the correct places and drill holes where the charges are to be placed. Blasters then put together the explosive, place it in the hole, and fill in the remaining space with sand, dirt, or some other material. When the area has been cleared of workers and equipment, blasters set off the explosion.

Where it is unsafe or illegal to use explosives, structures are demolished by hand or with wrecking equipment. Wrecking a structure is basically the reverse of building a structure. First laborers "gut" the building. "Gutting" means stripping the inside of anything of value, such as pipes, radiators, and light fixtures. Then starting at the top of the building, crane operators, also called ball-and-chain operators, knock the building down. Front-end machine operators pick up debris and dump it into trucks to be hauled away. Compressor or air-gun operators break up concrete. Smaller brick or wooden structures may be demolished by hand laborers using wrecking bars, sledgehammers, axes, and shovels. Brick buildings are usually taken apart by hand, because brick is valuable. Demolition companies may sell any materials they salvage.

Education and Training Requirements

Many demolition workers are trained on the job. There are no set requirements for hand laborers, although you have to join a union to work for a union contractor. You may become an operating engineer through a union training program or learn on the job through a nonunion contractor.

If you are interested in becoming a blaster, you should take science and math courses in high school. Electronics and electricity courses are also important, because many explosives are set off with electronic devices. Blasters begin as helpers, carrying explosives to blast sites, drilling and filling charge holes, and connecting wires and fuses. Experienced blasters teach trainees what type and quantity of explosives to use and safety practices and laws. Blasters must be licensed by the state. A state licensing agency may require a written test and letters of recommendation from a licensed blaster.

Getting the Job

Union wrecking contractors hire workers directly through unions, which offer training programs and information about job openings. Nonunion wrecking or blasting contractors are listed in the Yellow Pages. State employment service and newspaper classifieds may also list job openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

With training, hand laborers can become operating engineers. Operating engineers can advance to a machine requiring more skill; crane operators, for example, are highly skilled workers. Some operating engineers become supervisors or field superintendents. Blasters usually advance by increasing their skills. As blasters learn how to handle a greater variety of jobs, their opportunities for employment increase. Some blasters and wreckers open their own demolition businesses.

The future for demolition workers is fair. Available space for new buildings is relatively scarce in heavily populated areas. Builders must tear down factories and other old buildings to increase the amount of usable land. Demolition workers will also be in demand as cities continue to modernize and redevelop older neighborhoods.

Working Conditions

Demolition workers spend most of their time outdoors, and laborers' work is strenuous. Although demolition workers handle explosives and operate heavy equipment—and may encounter large chunks of falling debris—job hazards are greatly reduced when safety precautions are taken. The noise of wrecking sites may affect workers' hearing. Demolition workers work forty hours a week. Some overtime work may be necessary.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings for demolition workers often depend on geographical location and union membership. Those in metropolitan areas usually earn the most. The median income for blasters in 2004 was $36,790 per year. Highly skilled and experienced blasters, among the highest paid workers in the demolition field, earned considerably more. The median income for operating engineers in 2004 was $35,510 per year. Their experience, the type of machine they operated, and the difficulty of the job affected their wages. Less skilled helpers earned about $8 to $10.50 per hour.

Where to Go for More Information

International Society of Explosives Engineers
30325 Bainbridge Rd.
Cleveland, OH 44139-2295
(440) 349-4400

International Union of Operating Engineers
1125 Seventeenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 429-9100

National Association of Women in Construction
327 S. Adams St.
Fort Worth, TX 76104
(800) 552-3506

Benefits for demolition workers may include life and health insurance, overtime pay, accident insurance, pension plans, and paid vacations. Union workers usually receive all these benefits and others as part of a labor-management contract.

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