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A guide to operating and driving an excavator

An excavator can change the way you work and boost productivity. Best of all – it can do jobs that you simply can’t do. That is unless you actually want to dog out 3 tonnes of dirt with a shovel.

Excavators can take the hard work out of an excavation job, but they also have multiple other benefits like loading and unloading equipment, compacting, just to name a few. 

But before you get all digger-happy, it’s time to learn some of the basics – the do’s and don’ts when learning how to drive and operate one of these machines. 

Safety first!

If you’re new to excavators you will want to remain conscious of your safety obligations. If you’re planning on operating an excavator on a building site – you’re probably going to need to pass a competency test. It’s worth taking an actual course to improve your knowledge of how the machine works.

Check the safety manual of the machine you’re operating – in case it has some features you’re not aware of. Remember every machine is different so make sure you take the time to familiarise yourself with the controls. 

Assemble the right attachments

There’s nothing worse than doing a job with the wrong attachment. Sometimes it’s tempting to try and see if one works – but more often than not you’ll end up doing double the work and potentially butcher it in the process. 

Always source the right attachments and any other tools you know will be necessary to complete the job efficiently and safely. 

Know the plan 

Before you fire up the engine, it’s a good idea to plan exactly how you want to proceed. Don’t make the mistake of jumping in the excavator without a clear idea of what the job entails. First, gain an understanding of how you’re going to achieve the job – this can help avoid costly mistakes down the line. 

For example – plan exactly where your spoil pile will go. This can help you navigate the job site without getting boxed in by your own pile of sand (this happens more than you think). 

It’s also important to coordinate with other workers on the site. Building sites are often a mix of different contractors – all doing their own thing. Don’t be public enemy number one and communicate with those around you so everyone is aware of what you’re doing. 

Make sure your site is excavation-ready 

Digging in suburban or metro areas can be a dangerous task – especially when there are underground utilities in the immediate area. You should always consult with the site manager – and call 1100. Ausgrid is the competent authority who deals with service locations and will tell you whether you’re safe to go ahead or not. 

Here are some more things to consider:

  • Check that no materials are lying hidden underneath piles of sand or rubble. 
  • Ensure any utilities are clearly marked and visible to you – the operator. 
  • Clear off any trees, shrubs 
  • Remove valuable building equipment or other objects from the site. 

Getting started with the controls 

Once you’re sitting in your seat and secure, it’s time to check all the controls are performing well. If you notice something wrong with the hydraulics or a lever isn’t working – make sure you arrange for maintenance. 

Use the joystick to operate the main boom, as well as the bucket. Moving it back and forth – and left and right will allow you to effectively control the excavator. Don’t worry, these controls will start to become more natural once you play around for a bit. 

Test your excavator for balance 

Before you start digging, run the excavator over flat ground to check that the machine is balancing well. You should feel any major balance issues simply by manoeuvring the machine. Balance is what keeps you safe in your machine so it’s important you test before you load up. 

Always keep your tracks on the ground at all times. You should always be aware of how your excavator is positioned to avoid a potentially fatal tip over. 

Excavator operation tips 

Operating an excavator can be a rewarding, yet dangerous job. Here are some tips to make it a smooth ride:

  • Always have a seatbelt on when you’re in the cabin and operating the excavator.
  • Navigate around the site using the flattest route and steer as straight and calmly as possible. 
  • Hold the bucket low to the ground while manoeuvring around a busy job site – this will increase visibility. 
  • In steep, slippery, and wet conditions. – use the arm to stabilise the excavator. 
  • When going up see slopes – always go directly up rather than zigzagging. 
  • Always clean the bucket after use – but not by banging it against another object or the ground. 

Final thoughts 

Operating an excavator comes with a lot of responsibility. And earning the ropes can be frustrating. If you’re keen to get excavator experience or looking to invest in your business, go check out the closest Kubota excavators for sale and take a test drive. 

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