Excavation is used in the construction, logging, pipeline and mining industries. To become an excavator machine operator, you typically need several years of experience in one of those fields. Working as a hoist and winch operator -- lifting and pulling loads using power-operated cables -- provides good experience for those who want to work with excavator machines. You can get excavation-machine training on the job from experienced employees or supervisors, or through the International Union of Operating Engineers, which offers paid excavation apprentice programs. The 2013 median yearly salary for excavating and loading machine and dragline operators was $38,900, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Excavating machines are equipped with scoops or shovels. Operators use the machine's controls to dig materials such as earth, gravel and sand. They dump this material into trucks, onto conveyors or elsewhere on a work site. As they dig and dump, they follow instructions from workers on the ground, who use either hand signals or radios to communicate. Although your specific duties will vary depending on the industry and work site, your primary job will be to remove materials needed to get the job done. In logging, for example, this involves uprooting trees. In construction, it includes digging earth to make pools, roads and houses.
As an excavation machine operator, you must comply with all safety and health regulations for construction, as established by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. OSHA's excavation requirements are lengthy and include regulations regarding excavation site access, structural ramps and exposure to falling loads. It's vital that you know all OSHA guidelines before each job. OSHA violations can get you fired and result in litigation and OSHA fines for your employer of up to $7,000 for each serious violation and $70,000 for repeated violations.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Material Moving Machine Operators
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Excavating and Loading Machine and Dragline Operators
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Specific Excavation Requirements
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Frequently Asked Questions: OSHA Inspections: What Are the Penalties for Violating an OSHA Standard?
- Photo Credit Bogdanhoda/iStock/Getty Images
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