Construction plant operators work with machinery and equipment used on building or construction sites.
If you train to become a plant operator, the job will involve directing heavy machinery and construction equipment on construction sites, roadworks and in other workplaces.
As a plant operator, one must be able to use the equipment safely and correctly. A plant operator must also be fully aware of, and be responsible for, the safety of those people working around them.
What equipment do plant operators use?
Plant operators often work with heavy machinery, also known as plant, and equipment on construction sites. The machinery used can vary depending on the specific job, but could include any of the following equipment or plant:
- Lorry loader
- Forward tipping dumper
- Crawler tractor
- 360 degree excavator
- Industrial forklift truck
- Tracked loading shovel
- Ride-on roller
- Telescopic handler
- Mobile, crawler and tower cranes
- Portable toilets for construction workers
What is a plant operator’s job profile?
A plant operator can work on a broad range of construction projects and a variety of sites, including building sites, quarries, roadworks and demolition sites.
They are responsible for using plant in shipyards, factories and foundries.
A construction plant operator may use 360-degree excavators for digging soil and rocks, or operate a mobile crane for lifting and moving building materials.
Some larger plant equipment will only be used on larger construction projects, such as tunnels, bridges and motorways.
Plant operators should be able to carry out routine checks on their equipment. Where there are major issues or faults, they should report these to specialist maintenance staff or plant mechanic.
They must wear the right, appropriate PPE to carry out their role, such as a hard hat and boots, gloves and ear protection.
What is the working environment of a plant operator?
Most plant operators’ work will be outdoors. Conditions are likely to be noisy and you will be working on rough, muddy ground.
You may also work at heights, if, for example, to operate a tower crane.
The Construction plant operators often work at local sites and sometimes have to travel for work and may find themselves working away from home.
This work can be seasonal, and work may involve overtime, involving weekends and evenings, in order to meet deadlines.
Working hours vary between 37 and 40 hours a week, from Monday to Friday.
In construction, over 70 per cent of the workforce is full-time, and a substantial percentage, around 19 per cent, is self-employed.
According to National Careers Services, the average salary start at around £14,000 a year for a starter, rising to an average of around £35,000 for an experienced operator.
Does a plant operator need to learn health and safety?
As an employee, your employer must protect your health, safety and welfare at work, under law.
This means providing you with the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary for you to do your work safely.
But plant operators themselves have certain legal duties. They must:
- Take reasonable care for your own health and safety, and of others who your work might affect, including other workers and members of the public
- Follow instructions and safety measures, such as wearing personal protective equipment
- Use the equipment provided to you correctly, including machinery, tools and personal protective equipment
- Report any defects on this equipment.
You must not misuse or interfere with anything provided for your health and safety.
If you are self-employed as a plant operator, it is your duty under the law to make sure your work does not put others at risk.
What are the requirement to become a plant operator?
There are no formal qualifications to become a construction plant operator, but employers may well ask for GCSEs in core subjects such as English and Maths.
Although lift-truck operators should be over the minimum school leaving age (MSLA), apprenticeships are open to anyone over the age of 16, except in ports where they must be at least 18 years old. It falls under the responsibility of the employers to ensure appropriate risk assessments are taken out on all workers under the age of 18.
To work on a construction site, you will need a recognised form of accreditation. Accredited training programmes in the construction industry are linked to card schemes which provide evidence of a cardholder’s skills. One of these is the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS). A CSCS card is evidence of your competence as a construction worker to potential employers.
But as a plant operator you will eventually need a Construction Plant Competence Scheme CPCS card or an National Plant Operators Registration Scheme (NPORS) card. CPCS has historically, been the leading card scheme of this type and most employers will want you to hold a CPCS card (or NPORS) for operating plant.
When you are training, there are CSCS cards for apprentices and for trainees who have enrolled on courses.
- To gain a Skilled Worker CSCS card, you must have a trade equivalent NVQ level 2 in your field
- To gain a CPCS or NPORS card, you will need to enrol in an appropriate, accredited training course for plant operators.
What does plant operator training involve?
Taking a Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Plant Operations gives you a proper, grounding in plant operations, with an industry-recognised qualification.
On completing the NVQ, you will have a proof of competency to show employers.
For more specialist training in various types of plant equipment, there is a range of CPCS, NPORS and ITSSAR accredited training courses.
When you complete a CPCS or NPORS accredited course, you will receive a Red Trained Operator Card. ITSSAR accredited courses issue a certificate of competence.
What is the career progression of a plant operator?
There are opportunities to progress your career by specialising in particular types of equipment, or areas of operation.
Another way to develop your career is to become a site instructor.
The important thing is to begin your career path and get the training and experience you need to develop as a plant operator.