Excavator Job Description
Excavators (also known as excavator operators) utilize heavy machinery on a variety of construction projects, including residential, commercial, and industrial building and infrastructure projects like roadways and utilities. An excavator’s main role is to dig up soil and rocks to prepare a site for construction. The excavator ensures safe and reliable operation of their machinery by following safety protocols and helping to maintain equipment.
Excavator Duties and Responsibilities
Based on postings that we analyzed, excavators share several essential duties:
Operate Construction Machinery
The primary role of an excavator is operating heavy construction equipment. They work primarily with excavators, which are used to dig and remove rocks and soil, but also may be responsible for operating related machinery such as forklifts, bulldozers, and dump trucks. Excavators offload their machines and follow site plans to ensure that they dig holes of the proper dimensions for construction projects, including building foundations and roadways.
Prepare Sites for Digging
Prior to working on a site, excavators may also need to prepare those sites by removing brush and marking out boundaries. This aspect of the role requires some familiarity with reading and interpreting blueprints, along with working closely with surveyors and site engineers to ensure that dig areas are properly measured and marked, and that the intended dig site is free of underground utilities.
Oversee Maintenance and Repairs
Excavators also ensure that their equipment remains in proper working order by performing routine maintenance and simple repairs. As part of this role, the excavator conducts periodic checks of their equipment and notes any mechanical issues such as odd noises or unresponsive controls. If the machine needs specialty repairs, the excavator is also responsible for reporting the issue and making arrangements for maintenance.
Maintain Job Site Safety
Excavators also play a central role in maintaining job site safety. This includes a variety of tasks, ranging from making sure that work areas are cleared before beginning digging to following proper procedures around machine shutdown and storage. Excavators also ensure that holes in the ground are clearly marked to prevent individuals from falling in and conduct periodic checks to remove hazards from work areas.
Remove Job Site Debris
Finally, excavators prepare construction sites for other contractors by removing debris while digging. In this aspect of the job, an excavator may work with another heavy machine operator to move the debris or load it onto a truck for removal. In other cases, the excavator may pile removed debris near the job site and back-fill the area after concrete is poured for the foundation.
Excavator Skills and Qualifications
Excavators operate heavy machinery on a variety of construction projects. Workers in this role typically have at least a high school diploma and the following skills:
- Machine operation skills – excavators need to be very familiar with the principles of machine operation, including both excavators and related machinery such as bulldozers and trucks
- Physical stamina – this role frequently requires long days of operating machinery, as well as climbing in and out of an excavator, so physical stamina and strength are both necessary
- Safety skills – construction machinery can be hazardous to operate, so excavators should also have a solid grasp of safety procedures and best practices for responsible operation
- Team collaboration – excavators work with construction crews, site engineers, and surveyors to determine the scope of excavation projects, so effective team communication and coordination are important
- Accuracy and attention to detail – this role also requires excellent attention to detail and a high level of accuracy to ensure proper dimensions while digging for construction projects
Excavator Education and Training
There are no formal education requirements to become an excavator, although most workers have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. There are generally many opportunities for on-the-job training in this role as excavators learn to safely and accurately operate heavy equipment. There are also training courses available, which teach fundamentals of machine operation and prepare excavators for work.
Excavator Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies excavators as construction equipment operators. As of May 2017, the BLS found that workers in these roles earned a median annual wage of $46,080. The highest-paid ten percent of construction equipment operators earned more than $81,640 per year, while the lowest-paid ten percent earned less than $29,710.
The BLS expects employment for construction equipment operators to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 12 percent between 2016 and 2026, with particularly strong growth in the infrastructure sector.
If you’d like to learn more about working as an excavator, we found several useful resources on the web for further information:
“The Best Practices Excavation” – this helpful blog post outlines advice for excavators, from initial site visits to proper safety procedures during digging activities.
Moving the Earth: Excavation Equipment, Methods, Safety, and Cost by Herbert Nichols, David Day, Robert Schmitt, Clifford J. Schexnayder, and Aaron Cohen – read this book to learn the principles of excavation, along with an exploration of equipment and safety practices.
CAT Excavator Operator Training – excavators can learn fundamentals and principles of safe operation though a series of courses offered by one of the largest excavator manufacturers.
An Introduction to Excavation for Structures by J. Paul Guyer – this book considers many factors related to excavation, with a particular focus on preparing sites for structural construction.
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