There is a direct correlation between safety and productivity with regard to skid-steer loaders on a construction site,” says Shawn Warkenthien, product safety manager, Bobcat Company. “Safety trained skid-steer operators are not only better operators from a safety perspective, but they also operate more efficiently and achieve the best performance from their machines.”
Failing to follow certain basic safety rules when operating or maintaining a skid steer can lead to reduced efficiency, as well as serious personal injury or property damage. Manufacturers build safety features into their equipment to minimize such risks, but safe operation is ultimately the operator’s responsibility.
Read Up on Operation
All manufacturers offer an operation and maintenance manual with every skid steer. Their No. 1 safety tip is to familiarize yourself with the manual prior to operation.
“Even if you’ve been operating a skid steer for 20 years and are an expert operator, it’s always a good idea to read the manual to make sure you understand the controls, switches and instrumentation for that specific model,” says Warkenthien. Controls for skid steers vary and an operator may not be familiar with every control configuration.
Some manufacturers also provide the Association of Equipment Manufacturers Skid-Steer Safety Manual with their machines. This industry publication points out basic safety situations that may be encountered during normal skid-steer operation and maintenance, and suggests possible ways of dealing with those conditions. It is available in English or an English/Spanish dual language version.
In addition, many manufacturers offer training programs through dealers, and some have expanded services that include online safety training through sites such as Bobcat’s www.training.bobcat.com, John Deere's www.deere.com/productsafety or Caterpillar’s www.safety.cat.com.
Get to Know the Safety Features
Across the industry, manufacturers continually update the safety features of their equipment. Some common skid-steer safety features include seat belts, interlocked controls, lift-arm supports and roll-over protection structures (ROPS). Following is a basic review of their functions.
Seat belts (both lap- and three-point-shoulder) restrain the operator in the event of a rollover. The seat belt will also keep the operator from reaching out of the cab and from being jostled out of the cab in rough terrain. Seat bars (standard on most skid steers) are a secondary restraint system and should never be used in place of a seat belt.
Interlocked controls require an operator to be properly positioned in the seat before the skid steer can be used. There are several types of interlocked control systems. Some require the seat belt to be connected, some require a safety restraint lap bar and some detect when an operator leaves the seat and/or shuts down the machine.
John Deere applies a combination of interlocked control safety features in its skid steers. “Seat sensors detect if the operator is restrained and sitting correctly,” explains Gregg Zupancic, product marketing manager, skid-steer loaders. “The John Deere Triple-Interlock Operator-Presence System automatically applies the brakes when the lap bar is raised, the operator leaves the seat or the engine is shut down.”
ROPS and side screens protect the operator from being thrown from and crushed by the machine during a rollover. Usually, the ROPS is part of the enclosed cab design and contains metal side screens to prevent the operator from extending into the area between the lift arms and frame.