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Heavy Equipment Operator

What They Do

Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators Career Video

Insider Info

Heavy equipment operators install, transport, operate and maintain heavy machinery. That includes loaders, excavators, bulldozers, scrapers, industrial tractors, forklifts and cranes.

Depending on the type of equipment, an operator's work can include hoisting materials and digging and loading sand and gravel into trucks. They distribute soil and level and grade the earth, digging trenches and moving rocks.

The operator controls heavy equipment by moving levers, pressing foot pedals, operating switches and turning dials. They may also load and transport their own equipment to job sites and perform minor repairs on the equipment.

Most heavy equipment workers work in construction and in manufacturing. Many others work in mining and logging. Or they might work for the government or private contractors.

Heavy equipment operators generally work during daylight hours. It can sometimes involve weekend work.

"You can spend long hours at work," says Ron O'Connor. He is a heavy equipment operator in Idaho. "And depending where you live, the work is seasonal."

Think being perched up in a bulldozer sounds easy? The job does have its physical demands. Heavy equipment operators need to have a good sense of balance. They must be able to accurately judge distances and have good hand-eye-foot coordination.

"You need a fair amount of physical strength to do this job," says Valerie Vaughan-Griffiths. She is a heavy equipment supervisor.

Roll bars and overhead guards have been added to equipment. That reduces the risk of injury in this field. However, you still have to take safety precautions against noise and other dangers on a construction site.

At a Glance

Use and maintain loaders, excavators, bulldozers, scrapers and more

  • You need a good sense of balance
  • Most work is in construction and manufacturing
  • Apprenticeships are available


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