A Heavy Equipment Operator operates heavy equipment used in the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, airports, gas and oil pipelines, tunnels, buildings, and other construction sites/structures. The heavy equipment may include the following machinery: excavators, bulldozers, backhoes, loaders, graders, pile-driving hammers, asphalt and concrete spreaders, pavers, rollers, scrapers, dredgers, and power shovels.
Heavy Equipment Operators are employed by Construction Managers, Heavy Equipment Contractors, or by public works departments and pipeline, logging, and cargo-handling companies.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Heavy Equipment Operators are required to complete.
- Conducting pre-operational checks on equipment and ensuring equipment maintenance (e.g. cleaning, lubricating, and refilling equipment).
- Locating underground services, such as pipes and wires, prior to beginning any construction work.
- Installing equipment or attachments on machinery or related structures.
- Operating heavy motorized equipment in a safe and efficient manner, following all relevant legislation, policies, and procedures:
- Excavating, moving, loading, and grading earth, rock, gravel, or other materials, using backhoes, bulldozers, loaders, graders, and other heavy equipment as required;
- drive piling into earth to provide support for buildings, bridges, or other structures, using pile-driving hammers and related equipment;
- deepening waterways or reclaiming earth fill, using heavy dredging equipment;
- laying, spreading, or compacting concrete, asphalt, and other surface materials, using heavy paving and surfacing equipment;
- excavating rock or other materials, using power shovels; and
- moving, loading, and unloading materials.
- Performing maintenance and construction activities when not operating vehicles, such as:
- Installing and repairing guide rails and fences;
- ensuring construction sites are well-maintained (e.g. litter cleaning, grass cutting, and weed trimming); and
- assisting coworkers in various functions (e.g. loading and unloading of materials and pushing other equipment when extra traction/assistance is required).
- Advising the Construction Manager on any requirements for maintenance or repairs, completing written reports as required.
- Inspecting equipment by completing pre-operational checks (e.g. air brakes check), keeping track of equipment’s status, and reporting defects.
- Performing preventative maintenance (e.g. cleaning and greasing), minor repairs, and emergency adjustments on trucks and auxiliary equipment.
- Starting up and shutting down all equipment safely, following start-up and shutdown procedures at all times.
The average Heavy Equipment Operator salary is $54,176 per year or $28 per hour. This is around 1.7 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $38,000 while most experienced workers make up to $76,000. These results are based on 171 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Interpersonal and communication skills:
- Communicating clearly in order to create a clear and communicative environment with coworkers, including being able to interpret and use hand signals;
- dealing courteously with the public as required; and
- reading and interpreting technical documents such as safety rules, operating and maintenance instructions, construction specifications, and procedure manuals.
- Organizational and time management skills:
- Prioritizing and planning work activities in order to manage time efficiently while managing a high volume of work;
- multitasking; being able to work in a dynamic, fast-paced environment;
- being able to maintain accurate records.
- Analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making skills:
- Approaching tasks in a reliable, resourceful, and safety-oriented manner;
- identifying issues and key hazards and resolving problems in a timely manner; and
- being able to exercise mature judgment.
- Exceptional attention to detail with a strong focus on safety:
- Wearing respirators, safety boots, hard hats, glasses, and ear protection, as well as other personal protective equipment (PPE) as required;
- being compliant with all established safe practices (e.g. 3-point contact, lockouts, and safe parking);
- constantly asking oneself what could go wrong and learning to anticipate potential problems;
- preventing potential hazards and obstructions (e.g. utility lines, other equipment, other workers, and falling objects); and
- never taking nor tolerating shortcuts.
- Manual dexterity, motor coordination, and physical strength:
- Displaying good hand skills with a high regard for neat workmanship;
- being able to move around construction sites and to lift or carry objects weighing up to 50 pounds;
- being able to stand, crouch, kneel, and bend for extensive periods of time; and
- being comfortable working at heights.
Most Heavy Equipment Operator positions require a minimum of 1 to 3 years of work experience within a related industry, including 1 to 2 years’ experience operating heavy equipment in a construction environment. Some other positions require up to 5 years of work experience – including 3 to 5 years of experience with heavy equipment and at least 2 years of experience working outdoors year-round.
Heavy Equipment Operators also need to demonstrate a thorough understanding of municipal, provincial and national traffic laws, construction codes and regulations, health and safety standards, and ground disturbance permits and processes. A health and safety training, including First-Aid training, is often preferred.
In Canada, most Heavy Equipment Operators are required to have completed a Heavy Equipment Operator Certification (636A, 636B, 636C). A Journeyman Certificate and/or a Heavy Equipment Operator Red Seal Certification is usually preferred.
Finally, Heavy Equipment Operators must be able to work flexible schedules, including night shifts, as well as working outdoors in all weather conditions. They also need a valid driver’s license and a good driving record, as well as a reliable mean of transportation, in order to get themselves to job sites within their designated area.