Heavy Machine Operator Job Description

Written by bruce walker
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Heavy Machine Operator Job Description
Heavy machine operators build our roads, buildings and bridges. (heavy construction equipment image by Jim Parkin from Fotolia.com)

Heavy machine operators, also called heavy equipment operators or construction equipment operators, run and maintain large construction equipment. Heavy machine operators run the pile drivers that hammer large support beams deep into the ground to serve as foundations for buildings, bridges and offshore oil rigs. When we build or repair roads, it is the heavy machine operators who run the bulldozers, road graders and asphalt spreaders. They are also responsible for maintaining and cleaning their equipment.

Machines Used to Build Roads

Heavy machine operators use bulldozers to clear the land, then road grading machines make the surface level. To ensure a solid foundation for the road bed, heavy machine operators use tamping machines to compress the ground. The asphalt spreading machine operators control the heat and the flow of the asphalt, and make sure the asphalt is spread evenly. If the road is concrete, it is the concrete paving machine operator's job to spread and smooth the concrete, vibrate the concrete so there are no air bubbles to create weak spots, and cut expansion joints into the concrete to allow sections of roadway to expand without buckling when the road gets hot in the summer.

Machines Used for Buildings

Bulldozer operators clear the land. Excavation equipment operators use hydraulic excavators, front-end loaders and other machines to dig the holes for parking garages, basements and foundations of buildings and houses. Pile driver operators drive huge metal beams into the ground to provide support for walls or foundations of large buildings. Pile driver operators also work on bridges, offshore oil rigs, piers and other construction projects in water.


Heavy machine operators are usually responsible for maintaining their equipment. They may be required to handle minor repairs and to ensure that the equipment is kept up to safety codes.

Working Conditions

Heavy machine operators work outdoors in all kinds of weather. They work around dirty sites, so getting dirty or dusty is to be expected. Working on the equipment can also get you greasy. Some projects may take you away from your home for an extended time. The rate of injuries for heavy machine operators is higher than average. Working hours can be irregular, especially on road projects that must be done at night.


Heavy machine operators can learn their trade through apprentice programs, on-the-job training or a trade school. Workers generally start out working on light equipment alongside an experienced operator. As equipment has got more technologically advanced, outside training has become more important. Apprenticeships usually include a minimum of 6,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom instruction. Trade schools provide classroom training, but if you choose to go that route, make sure the school includes hands-on experience with the machines. There is no substitute for the real thing. You also may need a commercial driver's license to transport your equipment.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 469,300 construction equipment operators in 2008. It is projected that jobs in this field will increase 12 per cent to 13 per cent between 2008 and 2018. The median hourly pay for all equipment operators in May 2008 was £12.20. The median hourly pay for paving, tamping and surfacing machine operators was £10; for pile driver operators, it was £14.90. About one-fourth of heavy machine operators are union members.

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