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How to Operate an Excavator Safely

December 16, 2022

Excavator on a jobsite

In the hands of a trained and careful operator, an excavator is a powerful digging machine. However, with great power comes great responsibility, so safety should be top of mind every time you climb into the cab. Here is a checklist to help you operate an excavator safely.

Before You Operate an Excavator

Get the Right Training

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that operators of excavators or any other earthmoving equipment receive heavy equipment operator training that includes: “formal instruction (e.g., lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, video tape, written material), practical training (demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee) and evaluation of the operator's performance in the workplace.”

Read the Manual

Different makes and models of excavators vary in the location of controls, power and other functions. Read the operator’s manual so you’re familiar with the machine.

Call Before You Dig

If you don’t know whether your site has underground power and utility lines, use your area’s call-before-you-dig service to find out.

Make a Plan

Think through your path to and from the dig site and establish where you will put your spoil pile to make sure you don’t dig yourself onto an island.

Exterior Check

Take a walk around the excavator and make sure there are no fluid leaks or other signs of damage.

Climb Safely

Maintain three points of contact climbing into the cab, with three limbs touching the machine at all times.

Interior Check

Make sure the mirrors are clean and positioned correctly, the control levers and propel system are working, your seatbelt is buckled and your seat is adjusted to a comfortable position.

During Excavator Operation

Slow and Steady

When moving the excavator, choose the flattest route available and reduce speed if the terrain is rough. Keep the bucket low when moving to keep your view clear and avoid overhead hazards such as power lines.

Vertical, Not Diagonal

Go straight up and down hills rather than climbing and descending diagonally to minimize the risk of tipping. 

Not Too Close

Before digging, position the machine on a level surface as far from the edge of the excavation site as the arm’s reach allows. Never dig under the excavator. 

Know Your Limits

Know your machine’s weight limit and don’t overload the bucket. Doing so can cause the excavator to tip.

Don’t Swing

Never swing the bucket over people or the cabs of vehicles or machinery.

After Operating an Excavator

Keep it Level

Park on a level surface. This will ensure the excavator doesn’t roll or tip. 

Bucket Down

Lower the bucket to the ground. This will eliminate the possibility of it falling on a person who is walking under it.

Power Down

Turn off the auto idle switch, and let the machine run at half throttle for a couple of minutes to cool down the turbocharger. Set the RPM to low idle, and turn off the engine.

Lock Up

Make sure to lock the cab to reduce the risk of theft.

Exit Safely

Maintaining three points of contact until your boots are on the ground.

EquipmentShare is a People First company that takes safety seriously, and we want you to be safe when operating machinery. Learn more about renting from EquipmentShare.

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About EquipmentShare

Founded in 2015 and headquartered in Columbia, Mo., EquipmentShare is a nationwide construction technology and equipment solutions provider dedicated to transforming the construction industry through innovative tools, platforms and data-driven insights. By empowering contractors, builders and equipment owners with its proprietary technology, T3, EquipmentShare aims to drive productivity, efficiency and collaboration across the construction sector. With a comprehensive suite of solutions that includes a fleet management platform, telematics devices and a best-in-class equipment rental marketplace, EquipmentShare continues to lead the industry in building the future of construction.