Skid-steer loaders are virtually ubiquitous on modern farms. These agile and powerful machines help farm operators accomplish a variety of tasks. And, by simply replacing the bucket with one of the many types of available attachments, the operational effectiveness of this machine is multiplied. It is difficult to find a more cost-effective or valuable piece of farm equipment these days.
Like many tools, the skid-steer does have drawbacks. Of primary concern would be the safety of both the machine operator and those working in the immediate vicinity of the skid-steer. As an example, this safety concern was unfortunately and tragically demonstrated in central Wisconsin recently. While this incident is particularly unfortunate because there were children involved, there are many, many more examples of fatalities associated with skid-steer operation to be found online without much difficulty. The ease with which these examples are found connects back to how often skid-steer machines are involved in accidents. To do your own search, go to the Centers for Disease Control website and search for “skid loader fatalities”. This will bring up approximately 134 different documents which discuss specific fatalities involving skid-steer loaders from around the country. This document collection is an eye-opener and should have everyone thinking “that could have been me.”
Concern with skid-steer safety begins with understanding the hazards which operation of the skid-steer presents. Skid-steer loaders are complex and potentially dangerous machines to control. They require the combined simultaneous use of the hands and feet to operate most effectively. During use, the center of gravity shifts as the bucket or attachment is raised or lowered or when operated on a slope. Operators must be aware of the significant blind spots that are present and be aware of the crush hazard inherent in the lifting arms. Also, because the loader is a machine there are mechanical hazards related to the engine and hydraulic system that need to be considered. There are also significant hazards to those working around or near the skid-steer just due to the movement of the machine during operation. Fortunately, because these machines do present such a hazard, there is a great deal of information and training available to farm operators to use on the farm with employees and family members.
The tools to improve the level of safe operation of skid-steers on the farm are very much available with each new machine in the form of an owner’s manual. Each manual has a section outlining important and useful operational safety information. While it is possible to try to dismiss this as lawyer-mandated corporate CYA on the part of the manufacturer, each segment relates back to a specific real safety concern for the operator. A great deal of safety related information is available on skid-steer loaders in the form of safety labels or stickers and serve to remind the operator that there are hazards to be aware of (when the loader is kept clean enough to read them). Manufacturers will also make safety training materials available online or through dealers for a reasonable price. These training materials can be used as part of an individual equipment training program or an across the board training that takes place at hiring or even as an annual training activity.
Other types of training materials are also available for use. There are operational and safety training videos available for viewing for free online. There are training materials available which are designed to be part of an overall safety program. The Ohio State University Extension has a producer taught online agricultural safety training curriculum called Agricultural Tailgate Safety Training. This curriculum consists of 85 modules on different agricultural safety topics. Each module is designed to assist and lead farm owners or managers through the leadership of short do-it-yourself training sessions. One session of this curriculum focuses on skid-steer safety.
The University of Wisconsin Extension sells a CD based training program for use with dairy farm employees (This particular CD has both a skid-steer training segment and an animal-handling segment which is a useful training topic as well).
Another option available is to bring in training specialists. In much of the country, general industry is required to provide training and certification of employees using certain types of equipment. In many cases, agricultural operations may be exempt from this requirement, but that does not mean that these local training resources cannot be utilized on agricultural operations. Lastly, there are a variety of high quality publications addressing skid-steer safety that are free and appropriate for use as the basis for on-farm training.
The skid-steer loader will remain one of the most valuable tools deployed on our farms. It is flexible, powerful and agile. It can work in small spaces where larger loaders cannot. But it also comes with an achilles heel. The skid-steer can be a dangerous machine to use. It requires knowledge and understanding to safely utilize its capabilities to the fullest. Please consider utilizing one of the many available training options to ensure your business is not the next to make the news.
Dean Ross is an agrosecurity and dairy farm management consultant based in Michigan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org