What Does an Excavator Operator Do?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 05 January 2020
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An excavator operator is one who drives and controls an excavating machine. Also known as construction equipment operators, these individuals typically help dig holes, trenches and foundations, as well as clear forestry and remove rubble from construction sites. An excavator operator is able to perform these and other tasks by sitting inside of an industrial excavator while maneuvering its large tools.

While various types of excavators exist, most contain a compartment, also known as a cab, onboard the heavy machine which allows the operator to sit while maneuvering the machine’s controls. Using an excavator is a complicated task that can only be safely performed by one who has had adequate excavator training and experience. In training, operators not only learn how to direct such machinery, but also learn excavator safety to avoid property damage and personal injury.

Though trained to work as an excavator operator, most professional diggers also know how to safely operate other heavy construction equipment, such as bulldozers and tractors. In order to become an excavator, some people undergo formal training, while others are trained during the course of working construction jobs. Many also acquire the training needed by enlisting in the military. Depending on the jurisdiction where one works, the operator may also need special certification or a special driver’s license before being allowed to legally drive heavy commercial equipment. A degree is not required for this occupation, but a high school diploma or its equivalent is often preferred.


Several industries may have need for an excavator operator. For example, some operators may be hired by local government agencies to dig new roads or clear old ones, as well as clear forests after a fire or to make way for a new construction project. Others are employed by private construction companies and are paid to dig building foundations, remove old structures and clear rock and other debris from construction sites. Many also work in the mining industry and help dig for precious minerals.

Regardless of which industry an excavator operator works, the primary tasks one is expected to perform remains the same. Each is expected to know how to drive and operate an excavator in order to dig holes, clear heavy objects or remove large objects. Individuals hoping to work as an excavator operator must be able to work in a variety of outdoor climates, as well as work long, often physically taxing hours.


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