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.