Common Mistakes Made When Operating An Excavator- Hire Tips

After over 20 years in the business of supplying excavators of all shapes and sizes, we have seen a lot of mistakes. With supplying thousands of pieces of plant and tool hire equipment each year, we see them being made nearly every week. Resulting in costly damage, work coming to a halt and jobs overrunning. In this article, we are going to share with you the 6 most common mistakes made when operating an excavator.

We want to ensure that when you hire an excavator; you stay as safe and as productive as you possibly can throughout your hire. Let’s get digging into it then!

If you have never operated an excavator before you should listen and pay attention to the demonstration that will be supplied. It is always recommended to protect yourself and potentially the people around you, by holding an excavator operating licence. For further information on this, check out our training partner.

Excavators can not be used for commercial applications without an operator’s licence. In some instances, failure to produce a licence will void insurance policies as the result. 

Common mistakes during the operation of excavators

To avoid any nasty accidents, we have put together a collection of some of the top and most popular mistakes we have seen people make over the years. All these mistakes are easily resolved and should be in thought when operating an excavator.

Understanding the counterweight

The counterweight is the rear part of an excavator that sticks out. The larger the machine, the larger the counterweight. They are designed so they can help lift and balance larger loads. However, a lot of conventional excavators over the weight of 20T will have a significant amount of tail swing.

What does this mean for the operator?

One of the most common accidents that happen is hitting the rear of a machine on an obstacle during operation. This is due to turning too quickly, and not understanding the parameters of the machine.

How to avoid this mistake from happening when operating an excavator? 

The best way to avoid this problem from occurring is to give enough room all the way around the machine so you can rotate without damaging the machine. If you are using a conventional excavator, you could expect to leave at least 6ft from any obstacles. Alternatively, if you are working up close to buildings or other hurdles, using a zero or reduced tail swing excavator will prevent these issues from occurring. Find out more about these types of excavators here.

Positioning tracks and digging over sides

It is common to see operators, incorrectly load an excavator. Loading an excavator bucket at a 90-degree angle across its tracks is extremely dangerous, especially in larger machinery. Loading in this position can cause the machine to rock and potentially flip over if working on an incline. This can lead to fatalities. Remember we are working with heavy machinery.

What does this mean for the operator?

Failure to load the machine safely can have devastating consequences for the operator. Whether you are highly experienced or not, you should avoid loading a tracked excavator without a dozer blade at 90 degrees from its tracks. Mistakes like this can be fatal when operating an excavator.

How to avoid this mistake from happening?

Make sure that you do not undertake any type of work you are uncomfortable about. You should always seek professional training to help you learn how to tackle correct digging techniques. Expert training will allow you to build up the experience of safe loading and unloading of an excavator. You can avoid tipping by engaging the dozer blade for stability and work within a 45-degree angle of the tracks.

Working down in layers

When trenching, it is important to work down in layers at a time. Sometimes operators force the machinery without understanding the dangers that lie beneath. It is very common that when excavating you can come across different utilities or obstacles along the way. If you dig down too harshly, you could tear some of these out of the ground that may have not been identified beforehand.

What does this mean for the operator?

Another very common issue when excavating is damaging underlying cables that haven’t been identified. This can lead to costly repairs or even serious injury if an excavator cuts through unidentified utilities hidden under the ground.

How to avoid this mistake from happening?

To avoid any unnecessary accidents from happening, you should always ensure you have surveyed to detect any existing utility lines that could be in the area. This should then be followed up by using a CAT (cable avoidance tool). Ultimately avoiding any nasty accidents from happening. Additionally, try to avoid overcrowding the bucket as you will create far more mess when trenching. It is advised that you try to keep the bucket teeth at a 45% angle to the ground instead of 90%. This allows you to be far more delicate with your work.

Decompressing breaker attachments

One of the most common attachments that can be used with an excavator is a hydraulic breaker. These are ideal for fracturing concrete and natural stone found during excavation. One of the biggest problems is detaching the breaker from the machine. If you are unaware of how to do this correctly, you can damage both excavator and breaker.

What does this mean for the operator?

Failure to correctly decompress a breaker will not allow you to switch attachments on the excavator. This could lead to time lost and requiring an alternative machine if damage has occurred. Further, damaging the equipment will no doubt add additional charges on your hire.

How to avoid this mistake from happening?

To avoid making any mistakes when pressurising and depressurising a hydraulic breaker, feel free to follow our tutorial displayed on one of our mini diggers.

Swinging Excavator

The direction we swing an excavator can be the difference in avoiding nasty mistakes from happening. As you may be aware already, the cabins of all excavators sit on the left-hand side of the machine, with the boom sitting on the right. When we shift the left joystick either left or right the machine will pivot and turn. When you turn to the left, you have no visual obstructions in-between swinging. This is essential when moving large loads of earth or debris.

What does this mean for the operator?

Swivelling right in an excavator is always dangerous as your view is limited. This is due to the excavator’s boom and engine being in the way.  

How to avoid this mistake from happening?

The best way to avoid this from happening is to set the excavator up in the right position before commencing work. If you are loading either a dumper or lorry, make sure you can reach them and commence to load from right to left. By doing this you will avoid nasty mistakes when operating an excavator. It is always best practise to keep your loaded bucket low to the ground also while swinging.

Parking when finished using

The final common mistake when operating an excavator is in how they park the machinery when finished with it. The most common way to park a large excavator is with the bucket cradled, set down on the floor and the cabin facing off-centre of the tracks. This is because of the appeal of stepping out of the machine and onto the tracks. This is dangerous as 3 points of contact cannot always be retained.

What does this mean for the operator?

Failure to park the excavator could lead to additional slips and trips when leaving their cabin. As operators cannot retain 3 points of contact throughout exiting an excavator safely. Mistakes like this can cause serious injury when operating an excavator.

How to avoid this mistake from happening?

When finally parking the excavator, ensure it is in a neutral position, parallel to the tracks. By doing so, excavators are designed to provide operators with 3 points of contact at all times when climbing in and out of the cabin. This mistake is more relevant to larger excavators, however, the same principle applies no matter the size of the machine.

Need an excavator for your project in the UK?

WHC Hire Services loader hire

For over 20 years, WHC Hire has been supplying the latest and safest excavators on the market to businesses, civil engineers, utilities and the public. With regular investment into the latest equipment to be manufactured, we are proud to operate one of the lowest-hours and newest fleets available in the UK. All our equipment is less than 48 months old and provides operators with the most efficient and productive methods to complete their tasks.

Arrange your excavator to be delivered to where you need it, find out rates, or browse our online catalogue here. Or call your local WHC Depot today 01684377977