How to Operate an Excavator Safely

Posted: 2020-09-01

Operating an excavator is one of the most hazardous construction operations. Hazards can lead to severe accidents involving workers at a job site. That's why proper training and knowledge of safety precautions are essential to ensure no one gets hurt while an excavator is running.

For most construction projects, excavators are an essential piece of equipment used for several tasks, including material handling, landscaping, demolition, mining, and river dredging.

Excavators come in different sizes and can weigh up to 180,000 lbs. The significant parts are the dipper, also known as the stick and the bucket. These components connect to a cab that sits on a rotating cab. Most units can rotate at a full 360 degrees.

Common Excavator Hazards

During the operation of an excavator, several hazards and risks can take place, such as:

  • People and vehicles falling into the trench
  • The collapse of sides of the trench
  • The weakening of nearby structures
  • Materials falling onto the workers at the job site
  • Damage to underground services leading to electrocution, gas leak, flooding, and even explosion

Safety Precautions Before Operation

At the Job Site

Several things at the job site, such as rocks, construction materials, heavy equipment, and remains, can jeopardize the workers' safety when the excavator is in use. Therefore, be sure to remove such items from the area before operating the machine. Inspect the area for holes and ditches that may pose a problem once the excavator is working. If this is the first time construction work is done in the area, communicate with the local district, and request markers for any underground pipe or electrical lines. Failure to do so can lead to severe injuries and even deaths of people working at the site.

The Machine

Before operating the machine itself, it's essential to check the exterior and controls carefully. Make sure all buttons, lights, warning devices, and proper systems are functioning correctly before use. Check the tracking system for cracked or damaged pads as well as loose bolts. The seat belt is also one of the things you need to check and never operate the machine if the seat belt is compromised. Moreover, be sure to clean the mirrors and set them correctly.


To ensure safety, only use manufacturer-approved attachments. Select the right style and shape of attachment for specific tasks. Don't try to lift more than the maximum load capacity, as it can damage the equipment and put the workers at risk of an injury. For your guidance, the excavator's load capacity is found in the operator's manual. Be sure to read it first and comply with the manufacturer's specifications. The load limits are there for a reason, and you don't want to disregard them and be sorry later.

The Driver and Other Workers

Ideally, there are three categories of workers who must possess the proper training and competency to operate an excavator effectively. 

First, ensure that the driver is duly trained and authorized to operate the excavator. Training and certification should come from recognized institutions, which proves the driver is fit and competent enough to control this massive piece of equipment.

Second, the plant and vehicle marshals. Like the driver, they also need to possess the right knowledge and training to direct excavator movements.

Third, the pedestrians. They may not be directly involved in the excavator's operation, but their safety is compromised if they fail to adhere to the company's safety rules and regulations. They should follow the safe pedestrian routes on-site and make the driver and marshals aware of their presence.

Safety Precautions During Operation

When operating an excavator on bumpy ground, you need to take special precautions. Ensure the excavator's tracks are never parallel with a slope because they can be highly dangerous and cause the machine to tip over.

To reduce the risk of toppling over, drive directly up a slope. Extend the boom and arm while traveling upward, and lift the bucket low. This step will allow operators to drop the bucket and prevent the machine from sliding. Also, be sure to drive at low, steady speeds and avoid sharp turns. If possible, minimize sudden stops as well.

These are just some of the steps you can take to ensure no one gets hurt while trying to make a living. Drive safe!

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