How Do I Learn How to Operate an Excavator?

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Heavy Equipment, Heavy Equipment School | 0 comments

Excavators are essential tools on any construction-related jobsite. So if you’ve ever gone past a building site, you’re probably familiar with what they look like even if you aren’t in the construction industry. Learning how to operate an excavator can lead to a rewarding career, and the best way to get started is to enroll in a certified trade school. Here are some essential aspects of learning excavator operation to give you an idea of what to expect:

Safety First, Always

Heavy equipment like excavators have many safety features already, but it’s up to the operator to maintain a safe work environment, which sometimes requires quick action and good judgment. Before you even step into the machine at the beginning of your workday, you’ll have a few things to inspect. These include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Check your vehicle’s mirrors. Just like cars and trucks, heavy equipment uses mirrors for visibility on the jobsite or road.
  • Check your controls and propel system. It’s best to do this before you are carrying a heavy load. This is the best way to prevent accidents on the job.
  • Fasten your seatbelt. Sometimes the ground on a jobsite is torn up or rutted, and you’ll legally need a seatbelt if you’re driving the vehicle on the road as well.

Even after you’ve completed your safety check, you’ll need to keep a safe mindset while you’re operating the excavator. This piece of equipment is not designed to have riders in the cab, bucket, or anywhere else on the machine. Whenever you operate the excavator, you should be sitting in the seat with your seatbelt on. And make sure to move around at a slow speed, being aware of pedestrians and potential hazards.

Follow Best Practices

Basic safety training for operating an excavator will also include best practices, such as:

  • When you’re traveling or moving the vehicle, be sure that you keep the bucket low to the ground, to increase your visibility.
  • Don’t ever dig underneath the excavator, as this can trigger cave-ins.
  • If your jobsite has steep slopes, approach these inclines head-on so that you ascend vertically. If you approach an incline diagonally, you could potentially tip the excavator over. As you propel up the slope, extend the boom and arm with the bucket carried low. This means that if you happen to start sliding, you’ll be able to drop the bucket and stop or prevent a slide.
  • When descending an incline, keep the bucket bottom low and parallel to the ground for better balance.

Use common sense. Excavators are large, heavy equipment that can do a lot of damage or cause injury if not used correctly. Not only are there certain procedures and safety rules you need to follow on the jobsite, but knowing how to operate an excavator requires you to also be aware and thoughtful when you get behind the controls each day.

Get Familiar With the Equipment

Part of learning how to operate an excavator is becoming familiar with the equipment itself. This will help you to know if your machine is in good working order and what to do if there’s an issue. Each day on the jobsite, you’ll need to walk around your excavator and make sure nothing is amiss. Do your safety checks every morning and then inspect your vehicle before you leave every day as well. You might be able to catch maintenance problems before they become larger issues or safety hazards.

How do you get familiar with the parts of an excavator and how they’re supposed to run? Completing a heavy equipment operator course, such as the one at West Coast Training, is a good place to start. Our 50-50 mix of classroom and hands-on training provides a strong knowledge base for keeping your excavator in tip-top shape.

Pay Attention to Industry Demands

ZipRecruiter reports that construction equipment operator jobs are expected to rise by about 12 percent in the next decade, so starting on this path will get you ahead of the curve. The demand for skilled construction workers and heavy equipment operators is going to be huge.

The demands on you as a heavy equipment operator are going to be varied, depending on where your jobsite is located and what the weather or environment is like. You can expect to work outside, which means you may experience every kind of weather condition, including cold temps, intense heat, high winds, and rain. You may be working in undeveloped areas that require commuting or that are far from the amenities of a city. While the schedule usually includes a 40-hour week, you can also expect overtime hours in peak construction seasons.

Working in the construction industry can be physically demanding, so make sure to wear the proper safety gear and braces that might help you (such as for your back or knees) and take the time to stretch regularly.

Get Proper Training and Certification

There are several paths you can take to becoming a credentialed heavy equipment operator. You can attend a technical college. Tech schools typically have one- or two-year programs that you can tailor to specific facets of equipment operation. For instance, you might choose an emphasis on safety regulations if you intend to become a safety inspector or an emphasis on machinery maintenance if you intend to lean more toward the mechanical aspect.

You can also become an apprentice, which is a commitment of about three to four years. This is a great way to get into the construction industry because you’ll already be enrolled in your local union. You can apply for an apprenticeship through a state-run construction organization as well. Those who go through an apprenticeship tend to receive more hands-on training than technical college applicants.

Another option is to take a dedicated heavy equipment operator course through an accredited training school such as West Coast Training. This is the fastest way to learn how to operate an excavator and gain the credentials necessary to work in the industry. Often, you can become certified and get hired professionally within just a few months. The best programs will offer both classroom and hands-on field training to provide you with the best skill set for the job.

West Coast Training Heavy Equipment Operator Training

West Coast Training’s Heavy Equipment Operator Program is an eight-week training course that balances classroom and practical training for a well-rounded education. You’ll learn the basics of excavator operation, maintenance, and safety and spend time behind the controls. You’ll also learn to operate a variety of other machines, including dozers, graders, and backhoes. At our dedicated all-weather training site, you’ll find high-quality heavy equipment to learn on. Class sizes are small so there’s a quality teacher-to-student ratio and plenty of time practicing on the machinery.

Financial assistance is available, as well as veterans benefits and tribal funds. A student who isn’t worried about their financial future is a focused student. As a student of West Coast Training, you’re also eligible for lifetime employment services. This includes help with job searches, resume assistance, and interview development.

West Coast Training has been giving students a quality education in heavy equipment since 1959. If a heavy equipment career is right for you, contact us today!