A skid steer is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on a farm or ranch because it is designed to maneuver easily in tight spaces and has a variety of attachments to complete multiple jobs. Injuries from skid steer incidents can be extremely severe and include amputations, crushing injuries, mangled limbs, and death. Operators may recognize specific hazards but often fail to consider secondary factors, such as ice, mud, and slick work areas, that may increase the risk of an incident.
The most common types of incidents from skid steer usage include:
- running over bystanders, including children or the operator
- entrapment or crushing, which can happen when the operator or helper is caught between an attachment and the frame of the skid steer
- entrapment of the operator when a load rolls or drops onto him or her while he or she is in the operator station
- rollover, which can occur when the skid steer is operated on a steep slope or uneven terrain
- tipping of the skid steer due to a heavy load or attachment in the front
- falls while improperly mounting or dismounting the skid steer
- injection injuries caused when pressurized hydraulic fluid is injected into a person’s body
- crushing or pinching injuries to hands and fingers as a result of improper hooking and unhooking of an attachment
Center of Gravity
(Source: Pennsylvania State University. Agricultural Safety and Health)
The center of gravity for a skid steer constantly shifts depending on the job and attachment. Typically, the weight of the skid steer is concentrated at the rear of the machine between the wheels. However, weight at the front of the skid steer, as when moving items with a bucket or an attachment, shifts the center of gravity forward and higher.
- When you are carrying a load, whether in the bucket or an attachment, carry the load low to maintain a lower center of gravity and to increase stability and improve visibility.
- When traveling uphill, remember to keep the heavy part of the machine and load pointed uphill.
- If you have an empty bucket, you should back up a hill, but if the bucket is full, drive forward up the hill.
- Recommended travel for a skid steer is up and down a slope rather than across.
(Source: Pennsylvania State University. Agricultural Safety and Health)
Recommended Safety Features
The “zone of protection” on a skid steer includes the rollover protective structure (ROPS), a falling object protective structure (FOPS), side screens, and an operator restraint. All of these features are meant to reduce the risk of operator injury or death. The ROPS protects the operator in the event of an overturn, and the FOPS provides protection from objects that fall on top of the operator cab. Side screens are designed to protect the operator from being caught between the lift arms and the skid steer frame and to keep protrusions (e.g., limbs) from striking the operator. When the seat belt or seat-bar restraint is used, the operator remains securely in the operator seat. If your skid steer is an older model, contact your local dealer to discuss the possibility of retrofitting your skid steer with these safety features.
Some skid loaders used on farms or ranches may not have reverse signal alarms and beacon lights. However, these safety features can be installed after-market. These features provide notice of your skid steer movement to other workers in the area, possibly preventing a run-over or pinning incident.
Interlocks and Attachments
An interlock device is an electrical or hydraulic system lock that is tied in to the operator restraint system to mechanically lock the lift arms. Never disable this interlock, and require everyone to use it, because it prevents the engine from starting or they hydraulics from engaging if the operator restraint is not properly fastened or positioned. To avoid the potential risk of a crushing injury, ensure that all operators engage the hydraulic cylinder lift-arm lockout device when the boom is in the upright position for any repairs or maintenance. The lockout can be engaged from inside or outside the operator’s cab and should be inspected regularly to maintain proper operation.
A farmer or rancher may change attachments on the skid steer multiple times per day to complete different tasks. The safest way to secure the attachments to the skid loader is to turn off the skid loader, properly exit the machine, and secure the locking levers. If another person plans to secure the locking lever, you still must shut off the machine to avoid the potential risk of an injury to the helper.
All skid steer operators should be trained to properly secure the locking levers. If the locking levers are not properly locked, the attachment can become unfastened while in use or when the arms are raised, posing a risk to the operator and other workers.
The hydraulic pressure system, which often exceeds 2,000 psi, is an often overlooked hazard. Hydraulic hoses can develop pinhole leaks. Never use your hands to search for a leak because hydraulic oil injected into a person’s skin requires immediate emergency medical treatment. Amputation of a hand or an arm may result from lack of medical attention. The recommended method is to use a piece of cardboard or mirror to pass over the suspected leak.
Fix all leaks immediately, but remember that hydraulic hoses and fittings can be hot enough to cause burns. Sense for excessive heat by placing your gloved hand near the component.
When connecting hydraulic hoses, they should be routed to avoid pinching of the hose between the lift arms and the bucket or attachment.
Always shut down the skid steer and relieve the system pressure before connecting or disconnecting hoses.
Personal Protective Equipment
The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a necessary part of your safety plan for your farm or ranch. Anyone operating a skid steer should wear a bump cap or hard hat, steel-toed shoes, long pants, and gloves. Depending on the job and the machine, hearing and eye protection may also be necessary. Eye protection should be worn when checking hydraulic hoses and connections or any other components that generate the potential for flying particles or sprayed or splashed liquids.
Operating a Skid Steer
- If you must operate a skid steer inside a building, increase the ventilation by opening doors and windows and using exhaust fans to reduce exposure to exhaust fumes. Shut off the machine and take frequent breaks outside the building.
- Do not allow riders anywhere on the skid steer (e.g., in the bucket, on the operator's lap, and so on). Skid steers are a one-person machine.
- Read, understand, and follow recommendations in the manufacturer’s owner's manual for your skid steer.
- Never bypass or modify safety devices.
- Know your blind spots because in those blind spots could be people, vehicles, equipment, or buildings.
- Never swing, lift, or move a load over a person.
- Wear snug-fitting clothing that will not catch on levers.
- Always keep your hands, arms, legs, and head inside the operator’s cab during operation.
- Learn and use standard hand signals. Click here to access "Use of Hand Signals in Production Agriculture" for more information about hand signals.
- Learn to operate the skid steer smoothly and to position yourself where you will not inadvertently bump levers.
- Provide safety training to all skid steer operators at your farm or ranch. Require that they follow standard operating procedures.
- Know the material you are loading, and remember that some objects can roll back into the operator’s cab.
- To reduce the risk of a fall, always use the three-point method to enter and exit the skid steer. Two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet should always be in contact with the machine. Remember to use footpads and handholds and to keep the steps, pedals, and floor clean of slippery substances.
- Never use drugs, alcohol, or medication while operating a skid steer as these can impair your ability to operate and react.
- When transporting a skid steer, always use tie-down attachments to secure it to the trailer.
- When finished with a skid steer, park it with the bucket or attachment lowered to the ground.
- When possible, avoid operating a skid steer on slopes, ditches, or embankments.
- Check your work areas for obstacles to smooth operation prior to beginning your job.
- Look up and determine whether there are overhead utility wires near your work area.
- If you are digging, know where underground utilities are located.
- Avoid working near a pile of material, such as a large silage pile, or an embankment that is higher than the operator’s station. A collapse of the material could result in being buried.
- Use counterweights as recommended by the manufacturer to ensure a balanced skid steer.
- Make sure that the seat and floor of the operator's cab are clear of objects so that nothing can roll beneath foot controls and interfere with machine operation.
- Decrease speed when driving over rough terrain.
For an overview of skid steer safety, watch the following video from Bobcat:
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