Pipelayers have played a large role in creating the infrastructure of modern civilization. Modern plumbing and much of the world's energy all depend on pipes that these workers have laid.
Pipelayers are often confused with pipefitters, and while they are in the same class of work, they are not technically the same job. Pipelayers are the tradesmen who perform the initial groundwork for construction by laying down pipes that provide sewage disposal, drainage or water. Apart from construction, some of the other industries in which a pipelayer may work include natural gas distribution, where pipelines are used to carry the gas to be used as fuel, and the building of utility systems. Like others in the various construction trades, a pipelayer will have to spend several years working as an apprentice under a more experienced journeyman pipelayer before being able to work on their own or train apprentice pipelayers.
One aspect of the pipelayer's job involves cutting lengths of pipe to form sewer systems, or the infrastructure for carrying natural gas or water. The pipe has to be cut very precisely to conform to specifications and aligned perfectly before being connected by welding, or with the use of cement or glue. They may also be responsible for digging trenches for the pipes they install. The trenches must also be dug to requirements that are often very specific and thus require skill and knowledge to excavate.
Pipelayers must use multiple skills in their work, from heavy equipment operation in some cases, to blueprint reading. For example, pipelaying will often involve a lot of welding as it is one of the main ways of connecting pipes; many pipelayers are also skilled welders. It should be pointed out that the welding methods used in connecting pipelines are different from other types of welding. Pipelayers may be required to weld manually, or to use automatic welding equipment, depending on the job.
The work of pipelaying may include any of the following skills:
Welding with both manual and automatic welding equipment
Training less-experienced pipelayers in essentials of the trade
Operating heavy equipment such as backhoes and front end loaders
Digging trenches by hand
Using lasers and grade rods
The ability to read blueprints
The goal of the pipelayer is to make sure that the pipes are laid correctly and welded properly the first time so that they will be reliable and not need repair for a long time. In the event that pipes need to be repaired, this may also be a part of a pipelayer's job description. They may be required to inspect and perform maintenance on already-installed pipelines and also to tap existing pipelines to connect devices or new, secondary pipelines.
Pipelayers must be in good physical condition. Physical condition is important because much of the work is manual and difficult. Pipelaying often requires the lifting of heavy materials and tools as well as long hours of work.
Pipelaying also requires above-average manual dexterity and the ability to manipulate parts and tools.
Pipelines installation is expensive, and work must often be completed quickly and perfectly as owners and contractors will have lots to lose if deadlines are not met. In addition to the physical requirements of the job, the ability to work under pressure is also important. Pipelayers must be able to take instruction willingly, and follow it. They must also be able to take criticism of their work calmly.
Pipelaying requires that the worker be a dedicated craftsperson with an eye for detail and a desire to do their job as close to perfectly as possible.
Much of pipelaying requires teamwork and the ability to communicate effectively. Pipelayers will need to communicate with the operators of equipment as they guide pipeline segments into place, and during the crucial process of connecting a segment to the rest of the pipeline.
While many pipelayers pursue their training on the job with only a secondary school education, there are also vocational and technical schools that can provide a basic education and certification in pipelaying.
Pipelayers work outdoors in conditions that may be harsh depending on where the work is being done. Pipelayers must have the ability to stand up against whatever the elements can throw at them, and they must be able to tolerate working in less than clean surroundings. The worksite where pipelaying is being done is not only messy, it is typically noisy as well, due to the equipment being used and workers shouting to be heard over the noise of the equipment. Adding to the other pressures of the pipelaying work-environment is the fact that the job is often hazardous with workers in danger of being burned with welding torches or suffering any of the other injuries that may occur due to working around heavy equipment. They will be required to wear safety gear such as hard-hats and work boots as well as safety vests for high visibility to equipment operators. If their role involves welding, they will also need the protective gear specific to that job as well.