Customer Connect: Keep skids-steers operating safely

OSHA shares operating and maintenance tips.

Skid-steer loaders have long been a staple piece of equipment in rental fleets. Proper maintenance of safety components is just as important as mechanical maintenance practices.

OSHA shares operating and maintenance tips to keep skid-steers safer for operators and others working nearby.

Skid-steer loaders are manufactured with safety features to prevent unexpected or inadvertent movement of the loader arm and hydraulics when the operator is not in the cab. However, these safety features can be bypassed, defeated or improperly maintained, which can result in serious injury or death to the operator and/or other employees working on or around the equipment.

In one of OSHA’s safety and health information bulletins, Hazards Associated with Operating Skid-Steer Loaders with Bypassed and/or Improperly Maintained Safety Devices, safety experts share what’s needed to keep skid-steer loaders operating safely. These tips can apply to other types of equipment common in today’s construction equipment rental fleets.

OSHA’s tip sheet focuses on seatbelts and safety interlock systems typically found on skid-steer loaders that are primarily used for earth moving, which are not covered by the requirements of the OSHA powered industrial truck standard, 29 CFR 1910.178.

Safety components
Common safety features of a skid-steer loader include the seatbelt for operator restraint, falling object protective structure (FOPS), roll-over protective structure (ROPS) and a control interlock system. Some machines are equipped with a pulldown armrest, also known as a seat bar, which may be used to interlock and activate the machine control systems.

The seatbelt helps prevent the operator from being thrown about inside or falling out of the skid-steer loader. The FOPS and ROPS protect the operator from falling objects and injury due to accidental rollovers.

The control interlock systems and/or operator seats on some machines usually activate a safety interlock system that is intended to prevent inadvertent movement of the machine’s controls when the operator is not seated in the proper operating position.

A review of OSHA’s Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) reveals that between 1997 and 2007, 100 accidents were recorded that specifically involved skid-steer loaders. The deliberate bypassing of safety features such as seatbelts and control interlock systems was identified as the direct cause of 20 percent of these incidents, with all but one resulting in a fatality.

Properly maintained and functioning seatbelts and control interlock systems are critical to the safe operation of skid-steer loaders. Field reports have shown injuries and fatalities can occur by operating skid-steer loaders with one or both of these safety systems bypassed, disabled or improperly maintained.

OSHA does not have a standard requiring employers to use control interlock systems or seatbelts on skid-steer loaders. It is important for employers to understand that under the General Duty Clause of the OSHA (Section 5(a)(1)), employers must provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA may cite an employer for a violation under the General Duty Clause if recognized hazards exist and the employer does not take feasible, effective measures to abate such hazards.

OSHA takes the position that an employee who moves from the proper operating position on a skid-steer loader while it is energized to perform maintenance or repair operations creates a recognized hazard of crushed-by and/or caught in-between. The failure to use seatbelts also increases the risk of employee injury in the event of rollover.

Employers may abate these hazards by, among other things, communicating and effectively enforcing work rules prohibiting employees from disabling or bypassing safety equipment, including safety interlock systems, and requiring employees to use seatbelts at all times when operating a skid-steer loader. Rental centers should also make sure customers understand the importance of not bypassing these safety components and using seatbelts.

When equipment such as a skid-steer loader is used in construction activities, OSHA 29 CFR 1926.20(b)(2) requires construction employers to develop safety and health programs that provide for frequent and regular inspections by competent persons designated by the employer of 1) the job sites, 2) materials and 3) equipment. In addition, OSHA 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(2) requires construction employers to instruct employees in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable in their work environment to control or eliminate hazards or other exposures to prevent illness and injury.

If skid-steer loaders are used in situations covered by OSHA 29 CFR Part 1910, then the requirements of OSHA’s control of hazardous energy (lock-out/tag-out) standard, 29 CFR 1910.147, may be applicable. Such situations may include, but are not limited to, use of skid-steer loaders in warehousing operations or servicing and maintenance performed on skid-steer loaders in maintenance facilities.

Safety practices
The following practices will minimize hazardous situations associated with operating and maintaining skid-steer loaders. These should be practiced while the skid-steer is in the yard and also emphasized to renters:

  • Always read and understand the operator’s manual before using the piece of equipment.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications when operating it.
  • Always lower the bucket or attachment so that it is flat on the ground.
  • Do not attempt to activate the skid-steer loader’s controls from outside the operator’s compartment.
  • Do not leave the operator’s seat while the engine is running.
  • Never attempt to activate the controls unless properly seated with the seatbelt fastened and the seat bar (if equipped) lowered.
  • Keep all body parts inside the cab while operating a skid-steer loader.
  • Never modify, bypass, disable or override safety systems and never operate equipment in which safety systems have been modified or are not working properly.
  • Equipment with modified or malfunctioning safety systems should be taken out of service until repaired or replaced.
  • Never permit riders on the skid-steer loader, in the bucket or attachment or in the operator’s compartment unless the compartment is designed to accommodate a second rider.
  • Always keep bystanders a safe distance away from the work area.
  • Establish a routine maintenance and inspection program in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Inspect the skid-steer loader to assure all safety systems are functioning properly prior to operating the equipment.
  • Never attempt maintenance or other work while lift arms or attachments are raised without using an approved lift-arm support device.