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Skid Steer Loader Operation & Safety Guide

Updated: Mar 11


John Deere 317G Skid Steer equipped with tracks
John Deere 317G Skid Steer equipped with tracks
 

Skid Steer Loaders - An Invaluable Asset


Skid steer, skid loader, front loader - a machine with many names and uses. No matter what name you refer to them as, a skid steer can be a highly valuable piece of equipment for your jobsite. For many, they are an indispensable tool in which a project relies on. In order to utilize this asset as efficiently, and more importantly, as safely as possible, it is imperative to know your machine and the basic rules and guidelines for proper and safe operation.


 

A Focus On Safety


As a skid steer operator, efficiency is key to being productive on a job site. However, safety must be the number one goal for any equipment operator, even if it means taking more time to ensure proper safety procedures are being followed.


Construction worker wearing a hard hat, safety glasses, and a safety vest.
Always wear proper safety attire on the jobsite.

Know Your Jobsite


Take a moment to inspect the terrain on the jobsite. Make note of any steep inclines, low overhangs, or any areas where underground utilities, such as pipes, may be in place.

Know Your Machine


Take into account the size of your machine, it's attachment, and the type of controls it is equipped with. Whether your machine utilizes tracks or wheels will play a large role in how it handles the terrain. Pay close attention to warning labels and decals inside the cab, as well as weight limits.


Know Yourself


Knowing your own skill and experience level is important when tackling a job. If you are still new to operating skid steer loaders, taking your time is an important part of learning. Wearing proper worksite attire and safety gear is also an important step towards preparing yourself for the work you are about to do. Hard hats save lives, safety glasses prevent damage to your vision in dusty or dirty jobsite environments, and highly visible safety vests make you easier to see for those around you.

 


Inside view of a skid steer loader looking towards the gauges and controls
Skid steer loaders can have various buttons and controls to become familiar with.

Boarding The Skid Steer Loader


Getting off on the right foot is important when starting any job. Climbing on board a skid steer is a simple task, but there are a few safety concerns to take into account before you do.

  • When climbing into the machine, step firmly on the steps and grab the hand rails making a stable 3 point contact to reduce risk of slipping.

  • After sitting in the seat, adjust the seat so that you can reach the controls comfortably without difficulty reaching them.

  • Fasten the lap seat belt securely while operating at normal slower speeds. If a shoulder belt is supplied, fasten it securely before operating at high speeds.

  • Lower the safety bar until it locks into place.

 

Starting Your Machine

Control buttons for a skid steer loader.
Button layout for skid steer loader including start, stop, and parking brake.

After you've boarded the skid steer and have fastened yourself into the machine safely, it is important to observe your surroundings before starting and operating the machine. Taking the time to prepare accordingly will reduce the likelihood of accidents that could cause injury to yourself, the people around you, or damage to the machine.

  • Ensure that the parking brake is on and the immediate area is clear of bystanders.

  • Never start the skid steer from outside of the machine, always start the machine while sitting in the cockpit with the safety bar down and the seatbelt secured.

  • Never operate the controls from outside of the machine. This is dangerous and may cause injury or death.

  • Take a moment to check the controls for proper operation and that the gauges are working properly. If you notice any warning lights, refer to the owner's manual before operating the machine.

  • Operate the machine at a slower speed until you are familiar with the sensitivity of the controls.

  • Find the Rated Operating Capacity (or ROC) label inside the cab. Never exceed the ROC weight limit. Exceeding this limit may cause tipping, personal injury, death, or damage to the machine.

  • Use the proper attachment for the job and make sure that it is properly secured to the attachment locking mechanism.

 


A skid steer with a bucket attachment moving dirt on a jobsite.
Be especially attentive while operating on slopes.

Basic Guidelines For Safe Skid Steer Loader Operation


Operating a skid steer loader quickly and efficiently takes practice. However, these basic guidelines can help get you up to speed while keeping you and your co-workers safety as the highest priority,

  • Operate the controls smoothly while keeping your hands on the controls and feet on the foot pedals or foot rests at all times.

  • Never ram a bucket into a material pile. The loader has more power and control with minimum movement of the controls.

  • Carry loads as low as possible for the best stability, safety, and visibility.

  • Never stand, lean, or reach out of the skid steer loader while the engine is running.

  • Don't make sudden stops, starts, or turns. This could result in the loader tipping or rolling over, causing injury or damage to the machine.

  • Avoid rough terrain if possible. Be attentive on slopes and avoid very steep slopes to avoid rollover. Drive straight up or down slopes and keep the heavy end of the loader uphill. Keep in mind that with no load the rear end of the loader is heavier than the front.

  • Always check surface conditions for adequate traction to avoid sliding and rollovers.

  • When approaching a dumpsite, slow the machine down, raise the load slowly to maintain stability and keep the bucket level to avoid spillage.

  • Never lift, swing, or move a load over anyone. Never allow anyone to reach under or stand under raised lift arms.

  • Always look in the direction of travel. Back up alarms are not substitutes for looking behind you while operating in reverse.

  • Make sure that the area is clear of bystanders while operating the loader and keep bystanders away from the machine during operation.

  • Never carry riders on the loader or the attachment. Loaders are strictly for one person use at a time.

  • Be aware of jobsite hazards such as overhead obstructions or underground utilities such as pipes. Always call before you dig at a jobsite.

  • When driving over obstructions, cross them at an angle to keep the machine stable.

  • If you must work in an enclosed area, make sure the area is able to adequately ventilate the exhaust fumes produced by the skid steer loader.

  • When Parking or leaving the loader, never leave the loaders seat while the lift arms are raised or the engine is running.

  • Before leaving the machine, always lower the lift arms and attachment on flat ground. Turn off the engine, remove the key or engage the ignition lock. Place the parking brake on and move the controls to the locking or neutral position.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

Storefront picture of Total Rental

Becoming a skilled and efficient skid loader operator takes practice and patience, but practicing proper safety techniques now is the most important step you can make. Doing a job quickly and efficiently are good objectives to have, but doing a job well and with a focus on safety is the mark of a professional.

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