Do you need a license to operate an excavator?

If you’re looking to hire an excavator, you don’t need a specific license – however, you do have to be deemed a competent operator. The responsibility for this falls onto what Safe Work Australia refers to as a PCBU or person conducting a business or undertaking.

The need for specific licenses for every machine was abolished by workplace health and safety regulators nearly ten years ago. These days, if you are operating any of the following machinery which is classed as EPC (earthmoving and particular crane), you don’t need a specific license.

This equipment includes common earthmoving machinery such as excavators, loaders and graders.

Earthmoving equipment that does not require a license

  • Excavator (class LE)
  • Front end loader / backhoe (class LB)
  • Skid steer loader (class LS)
  • Front end loader (class LL)
  • Dozer (LZ)
  • Grader (LG)
  • Scraper (LP)


You can’t just stroll in off the street and start operating a 10t excavator. You need to be approved as a competent person.

What does competency mean?

The PCBU – generally the business owner or head contractor – needs to ensure you’re well trained to safely operate the machinery, handle unexpected situations on site, and assess the suitability of the equipment to handle the job at hand.

How to prove competency

Many registered training organisations (RTOs) can provide construction industry training courses ranging from a few hours to many months. However, if you’re purely looking to operate earthmoving equipment on site, you can have your competency assessed by a trainer from an RTO.

They will then issue you with a competency statement showing you’re able to use, drive and manage heavy equipment safely.

Note that this is in addition to your construction industry white card that you definitely need to be able to work on any site: a white card is not the same as a statement of competency.

Exceptions to the rule

You don’t need a license to operate general earthmoving equipment, but if you’re going to be involved in any high risk activities on site, licensing does apply in most states of Australia.

High risk work environments

Certain types of work involving heavy equipment require formal training and certification to obtain your HRW or high risk work license.

High risk activities can include erecting scaffolding, demolition, asbestos removal work, dogging and rigging, operation of certain cranes and hoists, forklifts, EWP’s and reach stackers.

So, this means that if you are hiring an excavator to dig a pit you only need to prove your competency – but if you’re hiring the same excavator to conduct demolition work – and perhaps where asbestos is present – you’ll need your competency certification AND a high risk work license.


In summary, whether or not you need an excavator license comes down to the type of equipment you hire, and what you’re intending to use it for.

It’s best to check with your local workplace health and safety authority for the specific regulations in your state, or speak to your company’s safety representative for more information.

Hire earthmoving equipment from Orange Hire

Got your competency in order and ready to hire an excavator? Give our friendly team a call to get great rates on short and long term hire.

We have fleets of rental equipment in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and regional centres, so no matter where you are along the east coast we can get your machines to you quickly and safely.

(Please note – Orange Hire doesn’t provide competency certification or training, however our friendly team can recommend some reputable training organisations if you need to get your licenses and permissions in order.)

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