|Written by Garrett Graff, President of Skid Heaven. Garrett has over 20 years experience running construction equipment and has spent most of his time in skid steers. Find him on LinkedIn.|
Skid loaders are some of the most popular vehicles in any construction site. They’re small, easy to maneuver, and budget-friendly for companies that can’t afford an entire fleet. There’s a lot you can do with a skid loader, which is why they’re a common sight for any contractor. Most of the workers on the jobsite will have experience operating or working with a skid loader. While smaller than a lot of other vehicles, skid loaders still present some troublesome hazards. Operators and those working with these machines should take proper precautions when maneuvering a jobsite.
Ahead, we’ll take a look at the safety procedures that every contracting company should implement. We took a look at the OSHA guidelines and risks and drew from our experience with the machines. Skid loaders are some of the safer machines on the whole, but that doesn’t mean they’re free from risk. Follow the best practices to ensure you and your workers are as safe as possible around this heavy machinery.
It’s always important to cover the basics in any safety procedures guideline since these are the areas that a lot of people overlook. You may know you should wear a seatbelt, for instance, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to.
The protective structures should always be in place to prevent needless and careless injuries. These include seat belts, restraint bars, and any other manufacturer-specific safety items that are inside and outside of the cab.
You should only ever enter a skid loader when the engine is off, and the attachment is touching the ground. Use the steps on the front of the loader to enter, and don’t take any shortcuts. This might not seem like a big deal, but a misstep can lead to serious injury. Always remember to use only quality bobcat tracks.
Traveling in a Skid Loader
Traveling in a skid loader is where most of the injuries can happen. You need to learn your skid loader blind spots, so you don’t grow overconfident with your particular area. It’s also important to keep whatever you’re carrying in mind, as this will limit your forward visibility as well.
A lot of new skid loaders have some enhanced safety features built-in. Things like multiple mirrors and backup cameras can help limit the blind spots on your machine, but they won’t do all the work for you. You still need an alert, trained operator with a ground crew that is paying attention (more on this below).
When you’re driving a skid loader, always keep the bucket low to limit the amount of visibility you lose. If you’re carrying a particularly large load, it might be safer to drive the skid loader backward instead of forwards. Your view will be limited, here, but additional features like backup cameras can greatly help, and will likely soon be the industry standard.
A lack of awareness is – in some form or fashion – one of the leading causes of injury on a jobsite – especially when you’re talking about a skid loader. The machines are small and compact, and often sacrifice some side visibility in favor of maneuverability and versatility.
Operators of the machine will be limited in their sight of the rear, left, and right. Only the front of the skid loader will be completely visible, and this can sometimes be impeded by the loader arm as well.
Many skid loaders tend to be quite loud as well. You can hear shouting over most models, but not all, and not everyone will be in a position to see trouble coming. Operators can sometimes fall into the trap of getting too comfortable with what they’re doing and forget to keep their eyes and mind on their surroundings.
As a safety procedure, make sure to always look around as much as possible before changing direction. Likewise, operators should be moving forward whenever possible, so they can see what’s ahead of them. Many of these machines have extreme visibility constraints, which means backing up and turning abruptly can injure those on the ground.
Ground Crew Awareness
According to OSHA, the bulk of the fatalities that happen on a work site in the US involve a worker being hit by a piece of equipment or another vehicle. In road construction zones, workers are just as likely to get hit by a piece of equipment as they are to be struck by a passing car.
The operator of the skid loader needs to be as alert as possible as they maneuver a jobsite, but the ground crew often needs to be even more diligent. As we’ve covered, the design of many skid loaders doesn’t offer the driver much in the way of visibility. Since this is the case, it often falls on those who are on the ground to make sure they announce their presence and stay out of the way.
If you’re on the ground, you should always be listening and watching for any danger. Backup alarms are loud but can often get drowned out by other noises or sound further away than they actually are.
You should always know your surroundings when working on a jobsite. Seasoned contractors know that the environment is always on the move, so it’s important to stay engaged in your surroundings and not to get tunnel vision on your current task.
One tool we have at our disposal is our clothing. Most companies offer shirts, vests, and hats to their employees that are highly visible through even the murkiest of conditions. These clothes will help an operator of a skid loader or other vehicle see you, but you shouldn’t take the visibility for granted. Keep your head on a swivel and stay alert.
Inspecting Your Skid Loader
Pre-Inspection is one of the safety areas that is often overlooked at too many job sites. Unsafe equipment is a massive hazard for both the operator and for the ground crew, so it’s essential to complete a safety checklist before starting the skid loader and completing your job.
You should always check the tires or tracks on your skid loader before you start working. These tracks and tires allow your machine to operate on several different surfaces, but old, worn-out tracks can be inefficient and unsafe. If you’re in need of some new tracks, take a look at the skid tracks we have available.
Next, you should take a look at the safety features in your cab to keep the driver safe. These features will vary depending on the type of machine you have but may include backup cameras, mirrors, and components that protect the driver in case the skid loader rolls over. The safety belt and bar should always be checked before use as well.
Skid steers have some of the greatest numbers of attachments out of any construction vehicle. They’re incredibly versatile, but it’s important that you check the attachments before using them to ensure everyone on the site is safe. Make sure that these attachments are properly fitted and fastened to the mount. If you skip this step, the attachment could come crashing to the ground and cause a serious injury or worse.
Lastly, take a look under the skid loader and look for any fluid leaks. These can be a fire hazard in some cases, but more often than not they will cause damage to your machine. This will be both a safety and maintenance procedure for you.
Common Skid Loader Hazards
Despite the list of skid loader safety procedures we’ve mentioned, along with others that OSHA recommends, there are some hazards associated with the category. Two of the biggest areas of concern include entrapments and runovers.
A run over takes place when an operator falls out of a running skid loader or if someone else on the jobsite is struck by the machine. This is why it’s essential to keep the seat belt on and to stay aware when someone is operating a skid loader nearby. Communication is crucial here as well, especially when it comes to avoiding entrapments. You should never try to operate a skid steer from outside the cab, and it’s very possible to become trapped if you disregard this procedure.
Limbs can get trapped and crushed if the ground crew and operator are not on the same page. Communication is key, and it’s important to keep a safe distance from the skid loader if you’re not sure about its movement. There are some other hazards associated with operating and working around a skid loader, including hydraulic failure, falls, and improper use. Thankfully, many of these dangers can be mitigated when you properly check the skid steer before use.
Hopefully, our outline of skid loader safety procedures was able to give you some tips on what you can implement at your jobsite. Some of the safety tips may seem small and insignificant but ignoring them can lead to serious injury or even death.