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What does a Field Operator do?

By D.B. Gutwein
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A field operator sets up, maintains, and repairs machinery used in the field, typically in the mining industry. Many field operators work in the oil and gas extraction, coal mining, metal or nonmetallic mineral mining, or water and waste water treatment facilities. Field operators often work in extreme conditions that can be dangerous, so attention to safety, physical strength and stamina, and a good work ethic are important.

Each mining industry has specialized field operator jobs that perform tasks specific to their industry. For example, coal mining field operators use equipment to remove earth to expose coal. Oil field operators rig up sophisticated equipment used to evaluate properties of the well.

The duties of a field operator usually include operating, lifting, and maintaining equipment. Duties may also include driving, and require a safe driving record. A field operator is responsible for maintaining a safe environment in the field, which includes identifying and mitigating risks. Oil field operators are responsible for rigging up and down equipment at the well site, and cleaning and maintaining equipment at the base. A field operator generally reports to a supervisor or manager, often a field engineer, and usually works as part of a team.

Most field operator employers require a high school diploma or the equivalent; some prefer a two-year degree. Several years of related experience is an advantage. Many companies also require a clean driving record. Most field positions require long hours and travel. Typically, field operators must be able to frequently lift 50 pounds (22.67 kg), and load, unload, and move large equipment.

Field operators often work in a high-pressure environment, in difficult locations, and in potentially dangerous conditions. For example, in the petroleum mining industry, many oil rigs are offshore, requiring oil field operators to live on site for weeks at a time and typically work in 12 hour shifts. A good work ethic is important during less desirable conditions, like snow and rain or extreme heat or cold.

The physical nature of the job, which can require lifting and moving heavy equipment, means that some degree of physical strength is necessary. Long periods of standing, continuous walking, stair climbing, and crouching are common for field operators. A field operator must also be able to follow established procedures and safety procedures. Companies that employ field operators are typically concerned with their safety record and in some countries are required to provide substantial safety training to their employees.

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Discussion Comments
By anon289691 — On Sep 05, 2012

I hear that candidates for these positions must have clean driving records. Anyone have an idea of just how clean they must be? A couple speeding tickets is OK but no DUI's?

By KLR650 — On Jul 15, 2011

I know a lot of people have not given much thought to living in the Dakotas, but if you are willing to do so there are a ton of these jobs available right now. They are advertising on the radio, entry level at 70,000 dollars plus, will train, must pass physical and drug test.

It has gotten to the point where housing is very hard to find and extremely expensive. A lot of the workers live in primitive "man camps" out on the job sites when they are working. I have no idea where they live when they aren't working.

Oil and gas jobs can definitely be a "boom and bust" kind of thing, and right now it's definitely booming.

By MaPa — On Jul 14, 2011

@winslo2004 - You made a great point when you said nobody is going to stop extracting resources from the ground anytime soon. If anything, new requirements will be passed to force the drilling and mining to be more environmentally friendly, and that will require people with high-tech skills to make it happen.

Experience as a field operator could be invaluable in learning to do the new, advanced jobs that will likely be created. In my opinion, it is often better to have somebody with hands-on experience to go with theoretical training. A "book smart" person who has never gotten their hands dirty is probably not the right guy to show up and start telling a bunch of oil roughnecks what to do. He probably doesn't know, and they aren't going to listen to him anyway.

But someone who has spent some time in the field and then learned the new techniques, that person would likely command more respect and also be more proficient at doing the job.

By winslo2004 — On Jul 13, 2011

This can be a really good job for people who are up to it. The work can be hot and dirty, you stay away from home for weeks at a time on some jobs, and it's dangerous, but the financial rewards can be great.

Plus, if you do well at an entry-level job like this there are tons of other jobs in these industries. Despite a new focus on green energy, nobody is going to stop extracting resources from the ground any time soon.

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