Construction Excavators: How to Manage Health and Safety

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Construction Excavators: How to Manage Health and Safety

A construction excavator is a regular sight at many job sites. This piece of heavy machinery is essential for such duties as demolition, digging, mining, and trenching. Other common uses include lifting, transporting, and brush removal. Due to the vast size and heavy weight of construction excavators, improper use can be unsafe or outright dangerous, even causing on-the-job fatalities. To prevent such serious mishaps, it is essential for both owners and operators to be aware of health and safety requirements, including those mandated by law.

In the United Kingdom, construction excavator safety is overseen by the Health and Safety Executive. By law, all construction work must comply with the Executive’s Construction (Design and Management) Regulations. By familiarising themselves with important safety rules and regulations, construction excavator operators can reduce the risk of injury or even, in worse cases, death. Learning about the heavy equipment’s components and proper operation enables construction workers to make smart buying and operational decisions.

An Overview of Construction Excavators

Replacing the less-functional steam shovel, construction excavators earned the moniker of power shovels. In the United Kingdom, construction workers are also known to call these wheeled tools “rubber ducks”. Other names for construction extractors include mechanical shovels, diggers, and 360-degree excavators, also called 360s. A construction excavator can be one of two types, cable operated or hydraulic. If the excavator is cable operated, its movements are achieved with the use of steel ropes and winches.

Hydraulic motors and cylinders and the fluid that flows through each power a hydraulic construction excavator. These excavators demonstrate a more linear movement. Hydraulic pumps power these excavators’ engines and generally come in threes. Where a lower-pressure pump provides pilot control, the two main pumps deliver oil at a pressure high enough to power accessories, ram, track motors, and swing motors.

Construction Excavator Specifics

Construction excavators have many uses, perhaps chief amongst them being that of digging, from building foundations to holes and trenches. The heavy duty machinery is also used in demolition, mining, and brush removal. Handling, lifting, and transporting materials are other popular tasks performed by construction excavators.


The construction excavator is comprised of two main sections, the house and the undercarriage. Included in the undercarriage are the blades, final drives, track frame, and tracks. The counterweight, engine, fuel and hydraulic oil tanks, and operator cab make up the house. Of varying configurations is the main boom, which is attached to the house.

With a centre pin connecting the house to the undercarriage, the construction excavator is able to rotate a full 360 degrees. Connected to the end of the boom is the dipper arm, or stick, whose digging force enables the bucket’s motion through soil or rubble. The bucket, too, can be of varying sizes, depending on the construction excavator’s intended use.

Additional attachments can replace the bucket, to be used for boring, crushing, cutting, lifting, and ripping, amongst other duties. The equipment’s two control configurations enable its operator to manage both bucket and boom, thereby performing four functions simultaneously.


With their range of uses, construction excavators are available in a wide array of sizes. Weight-wise, the equipment ranges from 930 kilograms on the low end to 980,000 on the high. In terms of horsepower, this translates to a variation of 13 to 4,500 horsepower.

Managing Health and Safety While Using Construction Excavators

Due to its substantial weight and great range of motion, a construction excavator is one of the most hazardous types of heavy machinery to operate. As such, compliance with safety standards is essential in its operation. In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive oversees occupational exposure standards to which construction workers, including the excavator operator, must adhere.

Dangers of Using Construction Excavators

Prior to use, excavator operators must be made aware of the serious health and safety concerns when performing excavation. Amongst the more severe dangers are falls, falling loads, mobile equipment risks, and overall hazardous environments. Depending on the task being performed, another consideration is the danger of cave-ins, the most perilous of excavation-related misfortunes. In fact, worker fatalities are highest in this area.

Considerations to Reduce Risk

Because of the numerous risks associated with construction excavators, an evaluation of the potential for danger should be taken into consideration before a company or contractor submits a job bid. Understandably, more treacherous job sites may necessitate the purchase of additional safety equipment or insurance, which would undoubtedly drive up the bidder’s cost of performing the work. Amongst the specific considerations are overhead and underground utilities, physical conditions, proximity of nearby structures, surface and groundwater, traffic, water table location, and weather.

Health and Safety Executive Regulations

In the U.K., construction activities must comply with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations. This extensive legislative document includes the following sections: General Management Duties Applying to Construction Projects (Part 2); Additional Duties Where Project Is Notifiable (Part 3); Duties Relating to Health and Safety on Construction Sites (Part 4); and a catch-all General section (Part 5).

Job Site Particulars

A thorough site assessment is essential prior to beginning any work. In particular, the contractor should identify the soil condition, including its ability to support the construction excavator. Next, they should be aware of the depth of the excavation, as well as what material is to be used to backfill the hole, and how. Another important determination is where operators plan to set the excavator’s spoil.

Pre-Operation Checklist

Of course, following all the safety laws and regulations is only the first part of construction excavator operator safety. Prior to beginning work, the company or contractor should carefully inspect the excavator to ensure proper operation. Following is an overview of parts and operations that should be checked.


What to Check

Broom and Stick

Cracks, deformations, hinge pins and bushings, hydraulic cylinders, hydraulic hoses


Pins and bushings, teeth, welds and bolts


Controls and labels, electrical system, fire extinguisher, gauges, glass, lights, operator’s manual, safety equipment, seat belt, swing brakes, warning alarms

Carrier and Car Body

Drive systems, frame, welds, bolts, rollers, rotation system, tracks

Upper Structure

Batteries, belt tensions, engine exhaust system, engine oil, hydro pumps and hoses, hydraulic fluid, radiator fluid

Beyond the above checks, which may be performed by either the equipment owner or the user, the construction excavator operator must adhere to proper mounting and dismounting. When climbing onto or off the excavator, the driver must always face the machine. The three-point contact method of either two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand, is the proper way to enter and exit.

In general, construction excavator operators should avoid loose clothing or jewellery. Their shoes ought to be free of grease and mud, and they should always wear protective equipment. Learning all they can about the job site, including height, weight, and width restrictions, is highly recommended.

Going Up a Slope

A too-steep slope combined with loose gravel or dirt is a recipe for disaster, as the construction excavator may roll over backwards. To improve load distribution and traction, the operator should keep the stick and boom extended. If the slope still proves too steep, diving the bucket’s teeth into the slope can help the driver ascend or descend safely.

Going Down a Slope

If the excavator operator is at the top of the slope, he should slightly elevate the boom to see if the equipment might tilt forward. Next, lifting the bucket from the surface helps determine if the machine can be held on the tracks.


Geometry dictates that the further the boom and stick are extended, the lesser its lifting capacity is. Lifting attachments must be attached properly and securely. Operators should keep load ratings in mind and must remember to add the attachment’s weight to that being lifted.

Managing Health and Safety While Using Construction Excavators for Trenching

As previously discussed, one of the more common jobs performed with a construction excavator is trenching, or digging a narrow ditch between sides of rock, concrete, or soil. As with any other excavating job, the operator should identify site access, soil type, and spoil placement, as well as perform an overall hazard evaluation.

Trenching Safety Tips

While the construction excavator operator is performing the trenching, other workers should not be in the trench. Additionally, before workers enter the excavation trench, they should determine whether shoring is necessary.


Cave-ins should be dealt with carefully, as improper handling can worsen the situation or endanger the workers. In many cases, the construction excavator operator may need to straddle the trench with the excavator. This should be approached in one of two ways, depending on if the trench has vertical or sloping walls. In the former situation, the equipment’s tracks should be lifted slightly from the ground, the boom raised to keep the tracks’ upward angle. Tracks should be kept on the ground in the latter instance, with the operator inching them over the edge of the trench. With the boom and stick extended to the other side of the trench, the tracks may then be raised slightly to cover the trench.

How to Buy Construction Excavators on eBay

Now that you know how to ensure maximum safety in construction excavator operation, you are ready to navigate to eBay and make a purchase. Perhaps you have extensively researched makes and models and have a fairly good idea of what you are looking for; alternately, you may have a longer list of options and are ready to turn to eBay to see what is available. In either case, you are sure to find a construction excavator to meet your needs and satisfy your safety requirements.

On eBay, you can view construction excavators by brand, with some of the top manufacturers being Belle, Case, Hitachi, JCB, Kubota, and Wacker. Other convenient features include eBay Top-rated sellers and searching by condition, location, price, delivery, and distance. When purchasing construction excavators on eBay, you should also be aware of the seller’s return policy, an especially important factor if you are buying pre-owned equipment. As time restrictions and terms vary, make sure you have all of the information before you buy.


For many people, the presence of a construction excavator signifies construction work. The piece of equipment is frequently found on job sites, its many uses ranging from building foundations to demolishing outdated structures. Other frequent uses include digging, trenching, and mining. Due to their immense size and weight, construction excavators are also amongst the most dangerous components of the work site; as such, proper education and adherence to recommended and regulated safety policies is essential.

Prior to setting foot on a construction excavator, the equipment operator should perform a thorough safety check of the equipment, examining such things as the upper structure, cab, carrier and car body, boom and stick, and bucket. In the U.K., both equipment and operation need to adhere to the regulations the Health and Safety Executive set forth. The contractor should thoroughly assess the job site, including soil quality and other physical conditions. Armed with a thorough knowledge of health and safety precautions, a contractor can be prepared to purchase and operate a construction excavator.

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