Safety on the Jobsite: Operating Heavy Equipment

by Melanie Baravik
November 3, 2017

An important part of owning a construction business is vetting qualified operators for your valuable assets. And part of that includes making sure they have the correct knowledge to operate the equipment.

But how should you judge an operator’s skills? Let’s take a look at some of the methods used in the construction industry to make sure operators measure up.

• Require a CDL — Some construction companies might opt to require heavy equipment operators to get a CDL, commercial driver’s license. These licenses are issued by each state and are harder to get than a regular driver’s license, requiring training, a physical, and a skills test. The CDL is a useful license to have because it allows operators 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.
• 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, do your research and make sure they received proper training. 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.
• 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. Though you shouldn’t discount the value of an operator’s certifications, sometimes the best way to learn is to do the job.  Observe appropriate safety measures and make sure you’re following any state laws relating to operating heavy 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 — though 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, ES Track creates operator scorecards for every driver, identified with the unique access code they’re assigned. Don’t sweat your operators’ skills, because you can see for yourself how they drive on the job.

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