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How to Operate a Skid Steer Safely: Best Practices

How to Operate a Skid Steer Safely: Best Practices

Skid steer a with bucket attachment moving dirt

How to Operate a Skid Steer Safely: Best Practices

Reading time: 5 min

Skid steers are widely used in applications where versatility and maneuverability are required. They are compact, maneuverable and designed to tackle a wide range of tasks. These robust workhorses have become indispensable for their ability to navigate confined spaces and handle various attachments, making them a go-to choice for excavation, grading, landscaping, construction and more.

Despite their wide range of capabilities, skid steers pose potential risks if operators are not trained to treat them with care. From rollovers to crush injuries, a lack of caution while operating a skid steer can lead to unfortunate accidents. In order to minimize the risk of injury and accidents, operators should be aware of  the safety risks associated with skid steers and how to mitigate these risks on the job.

This guide will provide a general overview of the best practices for operating a skid steer safely and provide some key precautions operators should take.

Best Practices for Entering a Skid Steer

One of the most common ways operators become injured while operating a skid steer is by slipping and falling while entering the machine’s operator cabin.

Here are some best practices to minimize the risk of injury while entering a skid steer: 

  • Maintain three points of contact. When climbing into the skid steer, always maintain three points of contact with the machine’s hand holds and foot pads. This can be two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand.
  • Make sure the machine’s steps are clear of mud, ice and debris. Slipping and falling while climbing into a skid steer can be particularly dangerous as an operator may inadvertently land on the machine’s controls and cause it to start moving. To keep the risk of falls to a minimum, always make sure the machine’s steps are clear of mud, ice, debris and liquids before entering. Only enter a skid steer with the engine turned off.
  • Only enter a skid steer with the lift arms down. Skid steers are most stable and resistant to tipping when the lift arms, including attachments, are in the down position. Always make sure the bucket or attachment is in the lowered position before getting into the machine.
  • Face the machine and use the grab bars for support. A skid steer’s grab bars and foot pads are specifically designed to handle the weight of an operator. Only enter the machine by bracing yourself using the dedicated grab bars. Never use the machine’s controls or other components to support yourself while climbing into the cab.

Best Practices for Exiting a Skid Steer

Just as operators may fall and become injured while entering a skid steer, they may also fall while exiting the machine. This is particularly dangerous because if an operator accidentally falls and lands on the controls, they may inadvertently set the machine in motion.

Here are some precautions operators should always take while exiting a skid steer:

  • Make sure the machine is parked on a flat and level surface. As you exit the skid steer, its center of mass shifts and machine is prone to become off balance. To avoid tipping, always make sure the machine is parked on a flat surface before attempting to exit.
  • Lower the lift arms and attachments. Skid steers are the most stable when their lift arms and/or attachments are in the lowered position. To reduce the risk of tipping, only exit the skid steer after you’ve placed its lift arms and/or attachment in the lowered position.
  • Put the controls in neutral and set the parking brake. One way operators may become injured while exiting a skid steer is if it begins moving during their exit. To prevent this, always ensure the controls are in the neutral position and the parking brake is engaged before exiting.
  • Turn off the engine. While many operators are tempted to climb in and out of skid steers while the engine is idling, this isn’t a good safety practice. To minimize the risk that the machine will begin rolling forward as you exit, always make sure the engine is turned off before you exit.
  • Maintain three points of contact while exiting the machine. When exiting the skid steer, always maintain three points of contact while exiting the machine. For example, by holding the grab bars with both hands and maintaining at least one foot secured to a foot pad.

Best Practices for Operating A Skid Steer Safely

Aside from entering and exiting the skid steer according to best practices, there are also several precautions operators should take during the machine’s operation.

Here are some key safety areas operators should keep in mind while operating a skid steer:

  • Use a seat belt. Before operating a skid steer, make sure your seat belt is fastened and the restraint bar (if applicable) is in the lowered position. Prior to operating the machine, be sure to test all controls, especially the brakes.
  • Don’t try to control the machine from the outside. Never attempt to operate the machine from outside the cab or while leaning out of the side of the cab. Always stay inside the cab while the machine is in use, and keep your seat belt fastened at all times. 
  • Inspect the work area. Prior to operating a skid steer, be sure the work area is safe and free of obstacles. In particular, be aware of sloped or uneven terrain, debris on the job site and personnel who may be nearby.
  • Only turn the machine on level ground. Since skid steers use differential steering, they are especially prone to tipping while turning on uneven ground. Therefore, it’s important to not turn the machine on excessively sloped or uneven terrain.
  • Lower the bucket for improved stability. A skid steer is most stable when the bucket is in the lowered position. To avoid tipping, never attempt to turn the skid steer with the bucket raised in the air, especially when carrying loads.
  • Wear the appropriate PPE/Safety gear. Although modern skid steers are built with reinforced operator cabs, it’s still important for operators to wear PPE and safety gear, such as safety glasses, hard hats, appropriate shoes/boots and hi-vis vests.
  • Do not exceed the lift capacity of the skid steer. To minimize the risk of accidents, it is of paramount importance that operators understand the limitations and capacity of their machine. Operators should never attempt to lift loads that exceed the lift capacity of their skid steer.

Best Practices for Skid Steer Maintenance

Maintenance best practices aren’t just about improving your machine’s productivity, a well-executed maintenance routine will also make your skid steer safer to operate.

Here are some key maintenance best practices to optimize the safety of your skid steer:

  • Implement a preventative maintenance plan
  • Replace worn components according to the machine’s requirements
  • Inspect the machine’s components frequently, including its safety components
  • Never disable or modify safety features
  • Inspect, top-off and replace fluids regularly
  • Make sure attachments are securely attached before using them

Final Thoughts

When it comes to operating skid steers safely, knowledge and vigilance are your most valuable tools. By adhering to the best practices outlined in this article, you can mitigate risks, protect lives and ensure the smooth progress of your projects.

If you find yourself in need of quality skid steer parts, look no further than the EquipmentShare Shop. Find OEM and aftermarket skid steer parts from a variety of brands. Can’t find the part you need? Reach out to one of our parts experts and get personalized assistance.

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