No air conditioning - Which means in the summer it can get over a hundred degrees F on the floor, and hotter in other places (closer to the furnace lines, etc.). And we're literally right next to the river, so we can get some impressive humidity to boot.
12-hour shifts. In that heat, 'nuff said.
Lifting heavy objects - Doesn't happen a lot, because we obviously use the machines to handle the metal most of the time, but because I work in a part of the plant where the sheets of metal are actually light enough for a person to handle, we sometimes have to haul things around.
Wearing full PPE - Personal Protective Equipment. We're required to wear a hard hat, jeans, steel-toed boots with metatarsal protection, safety glasses with side shields, and earplugs at all times. We also wear cut-resistant gloves and arm sleeves whenever we handle metal, and face shields whenever handling certain chemicals (usually denatured alcohol which we use to clean the rolls). In the aforementioned heat, it can get a little oppressive.
Getting Dirty - I have a separate wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts I have for work, because it's guaranteed that those things will become permanently stained with grease, oil, dirt, tar, and/or ink (used the mark some metal for traceability purposes) at some point or another. I can't wear those things in public because they're so stained. If I go to a store after work I tend to garner some odd looks because often I am also stained with same.
But there are also some Good Things:
Wardrobe - Yes, this is in both sections. As long as I'm wearing jeans, and my t-shirt doesn't have something obscene on it, I can wear what I want. My clothes do not have to be up to Corporate Standards. I never have to iron. I never have to worry about getting a stain on my clothing and rendering it unfit to wear for work. If it gets a hole or a rip? No biggie, you can wear it anyway. I can wear something that looks like I rolled out of bed and no one cares. I never have to worry about having a good hair day, because it's all crammed up under a helmet anyway. I have a completely low-stress clothing routine.
Breaks - I remember working as a cashier for a drug store chain for a while in high school. And the breaks we were given there were... almost dehumanizing. In an eight-hour shift you have two fifteen minute breaks (that you were paid for) and one half-hour lunch break (that you didn't get paid for, you had to clock out/clock back in). In a six-hour shift, you only got one short break. At my place of work now? I get four half-hour breaks, sometimes longer depending on the size of the crew at the machine I'm working on, and I get paid for every second of my time. We manage this by having someone who comes by in rotation and does your job for a half hour, then moves on to the next person, etc. Though I can't leave the plant during my breaks, I'm able to honestly cool off and eat my food like a person and not like a starving badger because of a need to clock back in before your pay is docked for being late.
Political Correctness (and lack thereof) - I work in a damn factory. And barring some basic decency that people abide by, and some personal tolerances we respect, we can toss around four-letter words all day long if we feel like it. When it's hot as balls and the machine has broken down six times a shift, it's very freeing to be able to curse when you want to and know you're not going to have your co-workers gasping and clutching their pearls before reporting you to HR.
12-hour shifts - But wait, didn't you just say that was a bad thing too? Well, a 12-hour day doesn't leave much room to do anything else, true. But I work a schedule where I basically go two days working, two days off, which every other weekend working three days and every other weekend being off three days. I only work half the days in any given month. Though I never have the same days off two weeks in a row (it's a two-week repeating pattern), I have a crapload of free time, way more than I've had with any other job.
Money - I am paid well. I have good health insurance. And I can sign up for overtime when I want it with a reasonable expectation of getting some in order to make up for extraordinary household expenses. And that’s more than I’ve had with any other job.
But there's this other thing:
Someone died in my plant on Monday night. A mechanic, a fellow in his mid-forties who hadn't been working there longer than four months. He was working on overtime, in my department (not his, he was from the other end of the plant), not on a machine I work on, but some of my co-workers do. The machine was locked out (unpowered), but nevertheless part of it shifted when he was in a position where he could not run, and it pinned his head against a metal railing. He died less than an hour later in the helicopter on the way to the hospital. I didn't know the man, but this was the first death in the plant since I hired in, and the first in the plant in 12 years.
The company is investigating the crap out of what happened, needless to say. They've offered us counseling for those that want it, not just to us but to our immediate families too. I'm actually doing ok. While the accident was horrific (I wasn't in the plant the night it happened, but I have a good imagination), what happened to the man was not a situation I would ever find myself in. I have an excellent safety record and follow the regulations sometimes to the annoyance of my co-workers. From what information we've gotten so far, it sounds like all the safety regulations were followed during the maintenance repairs, so they're trying to figure out exactly what went wrong. For now, the rest of us are just trying to plug along steadily and safely.
Even with what happened, I'm still going to stay around. Our company is very safety conscious indeed. Having recently been on a trip to visit some of the companies that buy our metal so we could see what they do with them, I was quietly appalled at the lack of safety regulations in these other businesses. Compared with them, my company is a paragon of safety. We have two full weeks of safety training when we hire in, and have regular safety refreshers every month. It's just that when something goes wrong, because we're dealing with equipment that meant to move, stretch, or cut thousands of pounds of metal, the human body basically has no chance.
A sobering thought. And one I consider every time I work.