Skid-Steer Loader Safety

A critical incident involving the operation of a skid-steer loader happened this past week in Indiana. Fortunately, the incident didn’t result in a fatality – but it could have easily.

Incident Summary

The operator was using a skid-steer loader with an attachment requiring several hydraulic hoses to power various parts. After the machine was in operation for a time, one of the hoses disconnected from the attachment. The operator stopped the machine and exited the cab to disentangle the hose, which had fallen between the attachment and the front tire. Once he freed and reconnected the hose to the attachment, he reentered the cab. As he did, his foot slipped and pressed down on the pedal control of the hydraulic system. This actuated the hydraulics and lifted the attachment suddenly. As the attachment lifted to full height, it crushed the operator in the pinch point between the lifting attachment and the cab structure. The operator sustained severe bruising to the upper body and head, along with deep lacerations to the right arm requiring emergency treatment.


Observers said the operator wasn’t totally familiar with the controls of this particular type of skid-steer loader, and he left the machine running when he exited the cab. An examination of the skid-steer revealed that the seat belt was fastened and pushed to the back of the operator’s seat, and the parking brake wasn’t activated.

Root Causes

No one likes unexpected interruptions when they are focused on getting a job done. Interruptions can make many people feel impatient and aggravated. We typically want to eliminate the distraction and get on with the job as fast as possible. This impatient mind frame causes us to do things without thinking, and sometimes in a way that we might not ordinarily do them. This could lead us to take risks that we normally wouldn’t take – like in this case when the operator left the engine running and didn’t activate the emergency brake. The hydraulics would not have engaged when he slipped on the pedal if the operator had taken these two steps.

Sometimes, workers with years of experience become overconfident in their ability to do a task – even if it’s a task they don’t do regularly. A worker may have operated a variety of machines, but that doesn’t guarantee expertise on every machine, especially newer models with reconfigured controls. New machines and tools are often changed and improved, and workers need to familiarize themselves with the safe and correct operating procedures for each one.

Danger: Fall Zone

One of the most important steps in planning for, and making, safety a reality on the worksite is knowing where people are going to be working while high hazard activities are taking place. So far in the 2015 construction season, there have been several types of dangerous conditions taking place repeatedly. We must stop these behavior patterns before a life-threatening injury takes place. One of those dangerous behaviors is allowing non-essential personnel in fall zones.

Today we will talk about the necessity to keep the fall zone clear when we lift materials with a crane. The OSHA Crane Standard Subpart CC defines a fall zone as:

“Fall zone means the area (including, but not limited to, the area directly beneath the load) in which it is reasonably foreseeable that partially or completely suspended materials could fall in the event of an accident.”

Suspended loads can fall, and they can seriously injure anyone under, or near, the load in the fall zone. There are times when workers must be in a fall zone area, and OSHA regulations allow for this if they are working on an essential job related to the suspended load. The following standard identifies the essential jobs:

29 CFR 1926.1425(e)(2)

“Only employees essential to the operation are permitted in the fall zone (but not directly under the load.) An employee is essential to the operation if the employee is conducting one of the following operations and the employer can demonstrate it is infeasible for the employee to perform that operation from outside the fall zone: (1) physically guide the load; (2) closely monitor and give instructions regarding the load’s movement; or (3) either detach it from or initially attach it to another component or structure (such as, but not limited to, making an initial connection or installing bracing.)”

Only workers directly involved with managing or rigging the load should ever be in the fall zone. When workers are in the fall zone, the crane operator must know where they are in relation to where the load is and where it’s going. They should either be in the crane operator’s line of sight or in communication with the crane operator. All other employees should stay out of the fall zone until the crane operator delivers the load.

Plan ahead, and stay out of a fall zone. If the lift or rigging fails, you will have saved lives.