Plant operators drive, operate and maintain large construction machines and equipment on construction sites, in quarries, at roadworks and more. This Go Construct article will explore how to train to become a plant operator, what their key responsibilities are and some of the machines they work on.
Types of plant operators
There are many types of plant machinery, and plant operators tend to specialise in just one of them – let’s take a look at some of the machines you could be operating.
Excavators are versatile heavy-duty machines that dig and move materials such as earth, rock and stone. Featuring a 360-degree rotating cab and digging arms, excavators can also be equipped with buckets, shears and breakers to perform a variety of tasks, including:
- Creating trenches
- Moving material around a site
- Driving piles and shafts into the ground
- Snow removal.
Dumpers are used solely for transportation, carrying large loads of materials across construction sites. Featuring a large skip sitting in front of the cabin, the material can be loaded and dumped in full or partial loads to the designated area. The dumper most commonly used in construction include:
- High-tip skip dumpers
- Swivel skip dumpers
- Heavy-duty front tip dumpers
- Tracked dumpers and carriers.
Telehandlers feature a large extendable arm – or boom – to lift, move and place materials at height. Telehandlers can be multi-functional, with attachments such as forks, winches and buckets allowing them to complete a wide range of jobs on site. They are commonly used to:
- Stage initial materials
- Lift and move pallets
- Transport suspended loads
- Clean up a site at the end of a job.
Backhoes are capable of both digging and loading materials. A general-purpose machine, they are found on most construction sites, often taking the place of excavators and wheeled loaders. They feature a front-end loader that lifts materials, as well as a back end loader that digs and moves materials from the same cab. They are typically used for:
- Small-scale demolitions
- Transportation of lightweight building materials
- Excavation and digging
- Breaking up materials.
Plant operator skills
Plant operators are in charge of massive machinery, so it is a highly skilled and well-paid job – to find out all of the skills required, check out the complete job role here.
Plant operators usually specialise in one kind of machinery, such as excavators or bulldozers, so good driving skills and spatial awareness are necessary.
Construction machines have multiple gears, pedals and knobs – while operating all these parts simultaneously, you also need to keep your eyes on the worksite and your fellow workers. Knowing your machine like the back of your hand will help you work effectively and safely, and this will improve as you gain experience.
To operate plant machinery, you will need a CPCS card. Don’t know what one is? Check out our complete guide to CPCS cards here.
Working well as part of a team
Plant operators often work closely with others on-site, from communicating with slinger signallers via radio whilst operating cranes to using hand signals to alert other workers of your movements, so excellent teamwork is key.
Plant operators work in all kinds of construction environments – they must be able to communicate clearly in order to work safely, accurately using and interpreting hand and visual signals.
Repair and maintenance of machinery
As well as operating machinery, plant operators are responsible for repair and maintenance. This starts with basic safety checks, changing buckets and any other attachments you’re using when necessary. This is usually carried out on a daily basis, before you start operations, so a basic knowledge of vehicle mechanics is required.
Preventative maintenance is also required, from cleaning and greasing machinery to verifying the condition of air brakes and carrying out emergency adjustments. Logs are usually kept to keep track of the equipment’s condition, so plant operators must be well versed in operational and safety procedures.
Use of computers and software
There’s a lot of computing power behind the cranes and excavators which construct impressive structures. Plant operators can use handheld devices or an onboard computer, which are used to locate underground pipes and wires, follow plans, control mechanisms and attachments and more.
Plant operators can also be required to use specialised software in their role – training is always provided for this, but a basic knowledge of how to work your way around a computer is essential.
Loading and moving materials
Key to a plant operator’s role is using heavy machinery and equipment to load, move or spread different materials or to help erect or demolish structures.
This ranges from helping with the excavation or demolition on building sites to assembling equipment and lifting building materials. This is often done in conjunction with other machinery, with the operators of cranes, compactors, excavators and diggers working closely with each other.
Next step? Take a plant operator training course today.
Did you enjoy that? Why not share this article.
Want to start your career in the construction sector or looking to expand on your construction skills? Book your construction training with us today.