The primary duty of mechanical engineers is to design and build mechanical solutions for problems. To ensure the solution is sufficient, engineers must also conduct tests, which may require them to operate, repair or modify equipment. Testing may require mechanical engineers to stress equipment or components beyond their breaking point. Although mechanical engineering is not a particularly hazardous field, during tests, installations, repairs and research, mechanical engineers may encounter certain dangers.
General Work-Site Dangers
Mechanical engineers work in a wide variety of environments for different types of companies. They must sometimes go on-site to install or repair equipment or gather information they need for designing new equipment. In industrial environments, mechanical engineers might slip on wet floors or ladders or fall from a catwalk or manlift. The work sometimes involves large, heavy material and equipment, which can crush or pin a worker. Moving parts can be dangerous if they come into contact with your body or clothing. Some environments expose engineers to excessive noise, vibration or temperature extremes that can be potentially dangerous. Many types of equipment require electrical power, and some carry enough juice to kill or severely injure anyone who accidentally comes into contact with it.
Mechanical engineers may work with flammable or potentially explosive materials, according to the University of Texas at Austin, as they may work with internal-combustion engines, fuel-handling devices or alternative fuel sources. At times, they also work with welding, soldering or cutting equipment. Combining, for example, a welding torch with a flammable liquid can cause fires. Machines or equipment can overheat -- during either operations or tests -- and start a fire. Some cleaning fluids and materials are also flammable, which can place the engineer at risk while conducting repairs or routine maintenance. In the lab or on-site, the risk of fire is a potential hazard that mechanical engineers must guard against.
Breathing Unsafe Air
Mechanical engineers can encounter fumes that are not only unpleasant, but potentially toxic. Diesel and gasoline fumes are dangerous to inhale, as are fumes from other substances used to run machines and equipment. Carbon monoxide poisoning is always a possibility when working with engines and generators in an improperly ventilated area. Working in a confined space is often a potentially dangerous situation, and the possibility of toxic fumes entering it compounds the risks.
Although this is not a physical danger, jobs may be hard to find. Mechanical engineering is growing at a slower rate than all engineering occupations combined and slower than the national average for all combined occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimations for 2010 to 2020 give a 9 percent growth rate for mechanical engineers and a 14 percent for the average of all other occupations. For all combined engineering occupations, the estimated growth rate was 11 percent. Certain engineering fields, such as petroleum engineering and biomedical engineering, have faster growth rates. The BLS projects a 17 percent increase for petroleum engineers and 62 percent for biomedical engineers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Biomedical Engineers -- Job Outlook
- University of Texas at Austin: Working as a Mechanical Engineer
- O*Net Online: Summary Report for Mechanical Engineers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Mechanical Engineers Do
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Mechanical Engineers -- Job Outlook
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Petroleum Engineers -- Job Outlook
- David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images