Complex bridges, sprawling shopping malls and elegant skyscrapers rise from the efforts of construction workers. While manual labor is necessary for these structures, it can only go so far in moving large amounts of earth and heavy materials. Heavy machines perform these building functions with construction equipment operators at the controls.
Some construction equipment operators can learn their skills on the job by working with more experienced workers. Others go through apprenticeships that last three or four years, which are sponsored by unions and trade associations. They go through at least 144 hours of technical education and 2,000 hours of on-the-job experiences while being paid. Some equipment training is also available from private vocational schools. Some states require special licenses for operators who specialize in cranes, pile drivers, backhoes, loaders and bulldozers. Workers who haul equipment over the road in heavy vehicles might need commercial driver’s licenses.
Before using any equipment, operators must inspect all of the mechanisms to ensure they work correctly and safely. They clean and maintain machinery and can perform basic repairs. However, they rely on mechanics for complex fixes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that operators suffer from higher-than-average rates of injuries and illness because they work in all weather conditions, machines are heavy and noisy, and the working environments are dirty and muddy. To minimize hazards, workers must follow safety procedures and wear protective clothing such as hardhats and steel-toe boots. (REFERENCE 3)
Construction equipment operators can specialize in different types of equipment. The machines they handle include bulldozers, trench excavators, cranes, industrial trucks and road graders. They are often known by their specialties. For example, pile-driver operators use equipment that hammers piles or piers into the ground. Asphalt-spreader operators control the temperature and spread of asphalt onto roadbeds. Concrete-paving operators work with machines that spread and level wet concrete. Tamping-equipment operators compact earth and fill materials.
An example of a construction equipment operator is Sean Wynne of New York, whose skill come from on-the-job training. In 1996, he started in Salomone Brothers as a pump and tank specialist, where he learned to install and remove tanks and to do concrete and asphalt work. After about four years, he started operating construction equipment, such as Bobcats, loaders and excavators to build roads and install gas, diesel and oil tanks. In 2005, he was a sales associate at Home Depot, and in 2008 he became a heavy machine operator at Woodlawn Cemetery, using backhoes and excavators to dig graves, and backhoes for removing snow. He has some college training in business and project management.
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