Skid steer loaders and compact track loaders (CTLs) are extremely popular pieces of mobile equipment that can be found on just about any kind of worksite. They can also be very dangerous.
The Massachusetts Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program and the Michigan State University Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine both issued safety alerts regarding skid steers in 2023.
A popular, but deadly machine
Combined sales of skid steers and CTLs – which are basically just skid steers with tracks instead of wheels – rose 20% in 2020, with another 12% increase in 2021, according to Diesel Progress. That took the total sales of both types of machine “to an unprecedented 125,660 units in 2021, comprising 97,647 CTLs and 28,013 skid-steer loaders.”
In short, this type of machine is popular and can be found on a lot of worksites, in part because of their ability to accept a variety of attachments, their “zero turn” capabilities and their general versatility.
However, in Michigan alone there have been 32 worker deaths from skid steer incidents between 2001 and 2021, with 99 non-fatal traumatic injuries occurring between 2015 and 2021.
The University of Michigan’s safety alert said that people have been:
- crushed between the protective cage and an attachment
- injured while driving or being struck by a skid steer loader
- struck or crushed by an attachment or item being moved, lifted or transported
- caught or crushed while performing maintenance tasks, and
- injured falling off while operating the skid steer loader.
A few examples of specific skid steer loader incidents that occurred over the years include:
- a farmer who was killed when he accidentally caused the bucket to lower and crush his head between the frame and lift arm as he leaned his head outside the cab to check a tire
- a landscaper who was crushed between the arms and frame of his skid steer loader while operating the controls from outside of the vehicle, and
- a handyman who was killed when his skid steer loader tipped forward with a full bucket of soil, causing him to get ejected from the vehicle’s seat and into the space between the bucket and the cab frame.
Proper training and maintenance are a must
To avoid injuries and fatalities associated with skid steer loaders and CTLs, employers should:
- ensure that all safety devices and physical safeguards are in place and operational
- implement inspection programs to ensure maintenance is performed per manufacturer recommendations
- ensure that all relevant manuals are available on the machine for the operator to consult
- ensure that operators are trained and follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedures to safely operate, service and maintain the machine
- allow the machine to only be operated when the operator is fully seated inside the cab
- ensure operators follow procedures, including prohibitions on working underneath raised lift arms if an approved lift arm support isn’t available
- instruct operators to tell co-workers and anyone else in the area of operation that they should never approach operating equipment until they make eye contact with the operator and the operator stops the machine
- prohibit any passengers from riding on the machine unless it was designed by the manufacturer to allow riders
- ensure that operators know both the operating capacity and any limitations of the attachments being used
- ensure that operators lower the bucket to the lowest position possible during transport trips and extended forward travel to increase operator visibility
- ensure operators always use seat belts or other restraint systems, and
- develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive prevention program, including training in hazard recognition and avoidance.