Controlling risks from skid-steer loaders

Incidents involving seated-operator skid-steer loaders have resulted in serious injuries and deaths. This guidance provides information about risks associated with seated-operator skid-steer loaders and can help employers control those risks.


Crushing and shearing risks

The lift arms and attachments of seated-operator skid-steer loaders present crushing and shearing risks to employees who operate the machines. Operators are generally at risk as they enter and exit the cabin through the zone in which the loader's lift arms and attachment move. Operators leaning out of the cabin while the loader is operating may also be exposed to risks.

Persons performing maintenance or repairs on loaders may be exposed to risks, especially if the arms and attachment are in the raised position.

Factors that may contribute to injuries and fatalities involving skid-steer loaders include:

  • defective loader safety interlock systems due to inadequate maintenance or the ability for the interlock to be bypassed
  • lift arms dropping while work is underway on the loader's hydraulic system
  • confusion about the controls that operate loader booms and buckets
  • lack of training in correct work methods

How to control risks from skid-steer loaders

As an employer, you have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) to ensure the health and safety of people in the workplace.

You must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health
  • provide and maintain plant and systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
  • make sure the use and handling of plant is safe and without risks to health
  • eliminate any risk associated with plant
  • reduce the risk associated with plant if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk

You can control risks from skid-steer loaders by ensuring:

  • employees are provided with information, instruction, training and/or supervision on the specific loader being used
  • employees are aware of the crush hazards and risks associated with the loader and the controls in place to reduce the risks, for example, seatbelts, restraint bars, screens, interlocks and anti-descent devices
  • regular maintenance of loaders and their safety equipment
  • operators check the loader's interlocks and anti-descent devices for correct operation as part of the pre-start inspection
  • operators do not use loaders with defective or modified interlocks, and that these loaders are withdrawn from service
  • operators use seatbelts and restraint bars as intended
  • operators only enter and exit the loader with the lift arms lowered and attachment on the ground, unless anti-descent devices are deployed to support the arms
  • operators keep all body parts within the cabin when the loader is operating
  • hydraulic circuitry is supported by clear maintenance information to avoid confusion to people who work on it
  • safety devices provided by the manufacturer are maintained in good working order and used for their intended purpose to control risks

The hierarchy of control

Use the hierarchy of control to control risks associated with skid-steer loaders. The hierarchy of control ranks methods of controlling risks from the highest and most effective level of protection to the lowest and least effective. Eliminating the risk is the highest level of control, followed by reducing the risk through substitution, isolation and engineering controls, then reducing the risk through administrative controls. Reducing the risk through the use of protective personal equipment is the lowest level of control.

The Compliance code: Plant has more information about the hierarchy of control and employer duties.

Safety interlock systems

Modern skid-steer loaders have safety interlock systems to help control risks. Depending on the design and specifications of the skid-steer loader, interlocks may be fitted to the loader's restraint bar, seatbelt, seat and/or door.

Interlocks usually work in conjunction with the loader's hydraulic and electrical systems and are designed to prevent unexpected or unintentional operation of the loader, including movement of the lift arms and attachment, when the operator is not in the seated operating position. For example, when the operator restraint bar is raised to allow the operator to enter or exit the loader, the interlock system locks-out the operator controls and holds the lift arms and attachments in a stationary position, even if the control pedals are pressed.

Anti-descent devices

Anti-descent devices are mechanical devices fitted to loaders to prevent the lift arms from dropping if there is a hydraulic failure. They should be deployed when the loader's lift arms are in the raised position and a person is required to pass or work under them, such as when undertaking maintenance.

Skid-steer loaders in the construction industry

When using a skid-steer loader to undertake construction work, a safe work method statement (SWMS) must be developed and followed if the loader's movements present risks to a person, including the operator. The measures to control the risks must be documented in the SWMS.

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