As their title clearly states, Heavy Equipment Operators must operate all kinds of heavy equipment used on any construction site, from bulldozers and power shovels to rollers and scrapers. Most Heavy Equipment Operators are also capable of conducting all necessary maintenance in order to keep the equipment in excellent conditions.
The more vehicles these professionals are able to operate, the more projects they could be involved in. Due to the nature of the job, it is obligatory to have a specialized training before entering this field; otherwise, it could be considered a dangerous profession.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Heavy Equipment Operators are required to complete.
- Conducting preventive maintenance on all equipment, reporting any malfunction to the Construction Manager:
- Performing daily safety and maintenance checks, keeping equipment clean and in excellent conditions.
- Using heavy equipment to load, move, or spread different materials (e.g. earth and rock) or to help erect or demolish structures:
- Locating underground pipes and wires, prior to beginning any excavation work;
- assembling equipment and joining attachments on machinery; and
- ensuring that all heavy equipment is used in accordance with all safety standards and legal regulations.
- Starting up and shutting down all equipment safely, following start-up and shutdown procedures at all times:
- Practicing workplace safety at all times and respecting all traffic regulations while driving any heavy equipment;
- knowing how to use the equipment in advance in order to prevent any situation that could threaten a person’s safety or that could affect the current work; and
- ensuring that all equipment is safely and securely stored at the end of each work day.
- Clearing construction areas from debris and other hazardous materials before starting a project.
- Performing maintenance and construction activities when not operating vehicles:
- Installing and repairing guide rails and fences;
- ensuring construction sites are well-maintained (e.g. litter cleaning, grass cutting, and weed trimming); and
- assisting coworkers in various functions (e.g. loading and unloading of materials and pushing other equipment when extra traction/assistance is required).
- Advising the Construction Manager on any requirements for maintenance or repairs, completing written reports as required.
- Inspecting equipment by completing pre-operational checks (e.g. air brakes check), keeping track of equipment’s status, and reporting defects.
- Performing preventive maintenance (e.g. cleaning and greasing), minor repairs, and emergency adjustments on trucks and auxiliary equipment.
- Starting up and shutting down all equipment safely, following start-up and shutdown procedures at all times.
The average Heavy Equipment Operator salary in USA is $38,501 per year or $20 per hour. This is around 1.3 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $27,000 while most experienced workers make up to $54,000. These results are based on 480 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Interpersonal and communication skills:
- Communicating clearly in order to create a clear and communicative environment with coworkers, including being able to interpret and use hand signals;
- dealing courteously with the public as required; and
- reading and interpreting technical documents such as safety rules, operating and maintenance instructions, construction specifications, and procedure manuals.
- Organizational and time management skills:
- Prioritizing and planning work activities in order to manage time efficiently while managing a high volume of work;
- multitasking; being able to work in a dynamic, fast-paced environment;
- being able to maintain accurate records; and
- updating inventory of supplies, materials, and equipment needed in each project.
- Analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making skills:
- Approaching tasks in a reliable, resourceful, and safety-oriented manner;
- identifying issues and key hazards and resolving problems in a timely manner; and
- being able to exercise mature judgment.
- Exceptional attention to detail with a strong focus on safety:
- Wearing hearing protection to protect workers from excessive noise, especially when working around noisy machinery;
- wearing anti-dust respirator masks, steel-toed work boots, helmets, glasses, and ear protection, as well as any other safety equipment;
- following all established safe practices (e.g. 3-point contact, lockouts, and safe parking);
- constantly asking oneself what could go wrong and learning to anticipate potential problems;
- preventing potential hazards and obstructions (e.g. utility lines, other equipment, other workers, and falling objects);
- clearing construction areas for debris and other hazardous materials before starting a project; and
- never taking nor tolerating shortcuts.
- Manual dexterity, motor coordination, and physical strength:
- Displaying good eye-hand-foot coordination and an excellent eyesight;
- being able to move around construction sites and to lift or carry objects weighing up to 50 pounds;
- being able to walk, sit, climb, balance, stoop, and crawl, when needed;
- being comfortable working at heights and outdoors, dealing with all sorts of weather conditions.
In order to become a Heavy Equipment Operator, one must complete a trade school program specialized in the matter, like the ones offered by the Heavy Equipment Colleges of America. These programs usually provide all the necessary knowledge and physical training for the candidates to succeed in this field through on-the-job training and paid internships.
Heavy Equipment Operators also need a good driving record and a class A commercial driver’s license (CDL), which is a special license for those individuals who operate vehicles that carry hazardous materials or weigh over 26,000 pounds on public roads. A class B CDL is required when operating a towing vehicle weighing up to 10,000 pounds. In some states, Heavy Equipment Operators may be required to hold a state license or a certificate from a national organization in order to operate certain types of machinery. These licenses and certificates must be renewed according to the corresponding state regulation.
Most Heavy Equipment Operator positions require a minimum of one (1) to three (3) years of work experience within a related industry. They must also demonstrate a thorough understanding of municipal, state, and national traffic laws, construction codes and regulations, ground disturbance permits and processes, along with all applicable health and safety standards. A health and safety training, including first-aid training, is often preferred.