Construction routinely ranks as one of the nation's most dangerous jobs. While manufacturers continually add safety features to their equipment, many safety measures fall onto operators and how they use and service the machines.
Although skid-steer loaders aren't necessarily any more dangerous to operate than other pieces of construction equipment, their versatility makes them one of the most frequently used machines on a jobsite. As such, there are safety issues you need to be aware of.
"You don't want safety to be something you worry about after an accident has happened," notes Jim Hughes, product manager, Case Construction Equipment. "You have to stress safety all the time. You have to make it a living, breathing part of your everyday business."
Skid-steer loaders are often the first piece of equipment a contractor may buy, or the first machine a novice operator may run for a contractor. "Because of this, skid-steer operators can be some of the least experienced on a jobsite," says Hughes.
That makes training critical to promoting safe operation. Many manufacturers offer training programs, and some have expanded services that include online safety training through sites such as Caterpillar's Safety.Cat.com.
Be sure to review the operator's manual - regardless of your experience level. "Whether you're an experienced or novice operator, read the manual," Hughes emphasizes. "All machines operate differently. It's important to understand the capabilities of the machine and to understand the task at hand relative to those capabilities, so you don't put yourself into a dangerous situation."
Prior to startup, engage the seat belt and lap bar and familiarize yourself with the safety features, such as rear egress windows. "Many skid steers with cabs will have a rear window that pops out," says Kirk Dilly, product training specialist at Gehl. "Familiarize yourself with how to accomplish that. In our machines, there's a cord to pull so you can escape through the back hatch."
One of the reasons a skid steer is used so often is because of its versatility and the plethora of attachments that allow you to accomplish so many tasks. However, there is an inherent danger associated with that versatility.
"It's critical that any attachment is properly engaged," says Hughes. Whether using a mechanical or hydraulic coupler, always double-check to ensure the attachment is fully engaged. Pay special attention with a hydraulic coupler.
"Before you pick up a load, raise the loader arms up and look at the pins on the back side of the coupler to make sure they're engaged with the attachment," he advises. "If they aren't, and you get under load, the attachment can fall off."
Since many tasks are done with the loader arms in the up position, be aware of any overhead obstructions such as power lines and trees. Also be sure to maintain the appropriate speed for the application and conditions. "If you're operating too fast, or if you stop or start too suddenly with the load raised too high, the machine can become unstable," Hughes states.
Modern skid steers have a pressure-sensitive seat that disengages the hydraulics if the operator gets up. While you can override this feature for certain applications, such as using a backhoe attachment, make sure to reinstate it once those tasks are complete.
Before leaving the operator's seat, lower the lift arms and place attachments flat on the ground. Stop the engine and engage the parking brake. Release the seat belt, remove the key to prevent unauthorized starting and use the steps, grab handles and skid-resistant surfaces when getting on and off.
While skid steers are relatively safe to operate, tipping is one of the biggest concerns. As such, it's important to understand the grade, ground and site conditions, as well as the abilities of your machine.