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Heavy Equipment Operator Duties and Responsibilities

Heavy equipment operators perform varied job tasks based on the heavy equipment they operate and the construction work being performed. However, there are some core duties associated with the job, including:

Operate Heavy Equipment Heavy equipment operators drive and operate large pieces of construction equipment, such as excavators, skid steers, backhoes, directional drills, tractors, bulldozers, and cranes.

Maintain Workplace Safety Heavy equipment operators follow all safety precautions at all times. This includes wearing protective gear and maintaining active communication with all other construction crew members.

Follow OSHA Guidelines Heavy equipment operators must follow OSHA regulations and guidelines for construction work, such as using shoring when digging trenches to prevent the walls from caving in.

Inspect Construction Sites Heavy equipment operators visually inspect construction sites to check for land grading, the location of various underground utilities, and other obstacles that may deter or affect construction.

Perform Equipment Maintenance Heavy equipment operators clean equipment before and after use, and perform light maintenance tasks such as filling vehicles with gas. They also keep maintenance records for each piece of equipment.

Load and Unload Equipment Heavy equipment operators assist with loading and unloading heavy equipment from trucks and tractors.


Heavy Equipment Operator Skills and Qualifications

Heavy equipment operators safely and correctly operate heavy construction equipment to perform various digging and building tasks. Construction crews hire candidates who have the following skills:
  • Physical fitness - because heavy equipment operators work outdoors in all weather and frequently lift heavy materials, strength and endurance are essential to this job
  • Communication skills - heavy equipment operators use good verbal communication skills to relay information to other crew members and receive instructions from the job foreman
  • Mechanical skills - heavy equipment operators use mechanical skills to correctly and safely operate heavy equipment of all types
  • Attention to detail - heavy equipment operators must be aware and observant at all times to notice anything that may compromise job safety or construction tasks
  • Reading comprehension - heavy equipment operators know how to read blueprints, schematics, and construction plans to carry out various construction tasks

Heavy Equipment Operator Education and Training

Heavy equipment operators must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. They must also have a valid driver's license and a clean driving record. Some employers may additionally require candidates to have a Class A CDL or to obtain one within six months of employment. This is an entry-level job, and heavy equipment operators receive paid job training to learn how to correctly operate various pieces of equipment. While in training, heavy equipment operators are closely monitored by the job foreman and senior members of the construction team. The length of this training period varies by employer and may last for several weeks.

Heavy Equipment Operator Salary and Outlook

According to PayScale, the median hourly income for heavy equipment operators is $18.99. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, however, shows construction equipment operators (including heavy equipment operators) earn a median annual salary of $46,080, or $22.15 an hour. The BLS projects this sector will increase 12 percent by 2026, which is a faster-than-average growth rate. About half of all employers provide full-time heavy equipment operators with benefits packages that include health, dental, and vision insurance. When benefits are offered, 401(k) plans and worker's compensation are also standard. Some heavy equipment operators do not receive any benefits from employers, though most earn paid holidays and vacation days once employed for at least three months.

Helpful Resources

Turn to these helpful resources to find job opportunities, education programs, and information about various types of commonly used heavy equipment:

Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. - ABC offers extensive training resources including webinars, news updates, safety information, and training event dates

Real Resumes for Construction Jobs - use this book to learn how to write a great resume to land any construction job and impress new employers

International Union of Operating Engineers - search for heavy equipment operator jobs, find training programs, look for schools and courses, and discover information about operating heavy equipment of all types at the IUOE website

Heavy Equipment - this in-depth guide to various pieces of heavy equipment helps operators learn the basics of using common construction and excavation equipment

National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Schools - get job placement assistance, participate in training programs, and find certification information at the NAHETS website

Construction Safety Engineering Principles: Designing and Managing Safer Job Sites - use the helpful tips in this book to find ways to stay safe on construction sites and prevent problems before they occur

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