November 3, 2017

Safety on the Jobsite: Operating Heavy Equipment

operating heavy equipment

Construction jobsites consist of countless moving parts, and the biggest of those? Heavy equipment. Big machines are an indispensable part of the jobsite, but they can be dangerous with an unqualified operator in the cab. So how can you make sure machines are operating safely every day on every project?

Who’s operating your machines?

Not everyone can operate heavy equipment on the jobsite — nor should they. That’s why an important part of owning a construction business is vetting qualified operators for your valuable assets.

There’s more than one way to ensure you only hire the best operators with a true commitment to working safely. Let’s take a look at some of the methods used in the construction industry to make sure heavy equipment operators measure up.

Hire operators with CDLs

Some construction companies might require heavy equipment operators to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL). These licenses are issued by each state and are harder to get than a regular driver’s license because they require training, a physical and a skills test.

Because CDLs are not a legal requirement for operating most heavy equipment, an operator who has one is especially valuable. Whether he or she got a CDL for a previous job or to enhance their skills and knowledge, a licensed operator has a unique understanding of the dangers of heavy equipment and vehicle operation.

Though it’s not the law, you can opt to require CDLs for your drivers if you choose. A licensed operator typically commands higher pay, and you get what you’re paying for: a highly skilled, trained driver who understands the dangers of disregarding safety.

Hiring individuals who have their CDL is also beneficial because operators are then qualified to transport the equipment they’re using from jobsite to jobsite. Having a CDL-certified operator in the cab means you don’t need to hire someone to drive that truck. Ensure operators who transport equipment are properly trained in machine loading, unloading and securing.

Require proof of education, certification or apprenticeship

Heavy equipment operator courses providing certifications are offered through many schools and organizations, including the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). If an applicant has a certification you don’t recognize, then do your research, and make sure they received proper training. Verify any certifications with the entity that issued it, and be sure all qualifications are up to date.

Completing an apprenticeship is another good sign that the applicant is qualified, since they typically need a few thousand hours of experience plus hours of instruction. That can mean when the operator’s apprenticeship is complete, they’ve already gained a few years of equipment operation experience. If you do hire an operator who was an apprentice, due diligence is a must: Verify his experience with the person or company the applicant apprenticed with, and ask questions about his performance.

On-the-job training

Although certificates and licenses show that the operator has made an effort to become qualified, there’s no replacement for seeing their skills for yourself. You shouldn’t discount the value of an operator’s certifications, but sometimes the best way to learn is to do the job.

On-the-job training should be standard; often, operators are using different makes or models of equipment than they’re used to, or even entirely different machines. And though an operator might tell you they have experience with the machine or they don’t need training, you should never let anyone in the cab unsupervised without verifying their skills yourself.

Another training misconception is that once is enough. That’s simply not true, especially when it comes to heavy equipment operation. Training should be constant and conducted at the beginning of every project and as needed, like if the operator begins using a different piece of equipment.

Virtual reality training

Despite the construction industry’s tendency to adopt technology slowly, its impact is still being felt in meaningful ways. Virtual reality construction training is still in its early days, but maybe your company will be at the forefront of its adoption. VR is a cost-effective way of conducting expensive training, and allows dangerous conditions to be recreated with no risk to trainees.

This leads to more thorough, effective training that’s safer and less expensive than traditional methods, a win-win situation for you and your employees.

Heavy equipment operator standards are not federally mandated, and few states have a standardized licensing process. Special certifications might be needed for certain pieces of equipment, notably cranes. This means that you can train and hire operators according to your own set of standards. Due to the dangerous nature of heavy equipment operation, those standards should be high, and your vetting process thorough.

In addition, construction companies can implement a telematics tool to keep an eye on drivers. For example, Track creates operator scorecards for every driver based on the unique access code they’re assigned. With a safety solution like Track in place, you don’t have to sweat your operators’ skills. Instead, you can see for yourself how they drive on the job and, conversely, remove an operator from a job if he or she isn’t making safe work choices.

Beyond any formal vetting processes, make it clear to applicants that safety is the number one priority on your projects every day. And stand by that statement: Follow through with consequences when safety procedures aren’t adhered to, and observe them strictly yourself.

Heavy equipment accidents are preventable on jobsites when everyone is on board and taking the proper precautions. Lead by example, and keep your jobsites accident and injury-free.



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