Farm-safety Expert Urges Precautions to Limit Skid-steer Accidents

By Jeff Mulhollem and Chuck Gill, Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK –  In response to a tragic, four-state, two-week series of fatal accidents involving agricultural producers and skid-steer loaders, a farm-safety expert in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is calling for operators to take precautions.

The four fatalities have occurred since mid-February in New York, Minnesota, Indiana and Wisconsin, according to Dennis Murphy, distinguished professor of agricultural safety and health. He noted that the accidents all had certain factors in common.

“One operator died after being crushed by the loader bucket, one was a rollover on uneven ground and the others appeared to be rollovers caused by loads carried too high,” he said. “The major contributing factors in the fatalities were similar, and the danger can be mitigated by taking precautions.”

Murphy, who heads the Agricultural Safety and Health Program in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, is reminding producers and employees that skid-steer operation demands attention to safety factors that are similar to those encountered when operating farm tractors with a front-end loader. He offers the following tips:

— Avoid raised loads, which elevate the skid steer’s center of gravity in relation to the stability baseline of the machine, thus increasing the danger of a rollover. “Carrying loads ‘low and slow’ keeps the center of gravity low, thus reducing the chance of rollover,” Murphy said.

— Maintain a clear view of the work area, nearby workers or bystanders, and other obstacles.

— Keep children away from the work area.

— Use the seatbelt during skid-steer operation, which will keep the operator inside the “zone of protection” if an accident does occur.

— If the machine’s bucket must be raised for any nonoperation activity, use the boom lock to secure the bucket and lift arms and keep them from inadvertently falling.

— Train all family workers and newly hired employees to operate a skid steer properly and safely, and provide an annual training review for experienced employees.

“Skid steers are compact, powerful and versatile machines,” said Murphy. “They fit into small spaces to scoop out animal wastes or to lift a tree into a landscape site. They quickly move payloads of rock, feed, manure or building materials. Numerous attachments make the skid steer as valuable as any farm or utility tractor.

“The usefulness of skid steers for agricultural and landscape operations is hard to overstate, but they are not without their limitations. The skill and knowledge required for safe operation is often misunderstood and sometimes underestimated. We must end this string of tragic accidents involving their use.”

A free fact sheet on skid-steer safety is available online. A downloadable PowerPoint presentation on skid-steer safety in Spanish is available at www.agsafety.psu.edu.

For more information, contact Dennis Murphy at 814-865-7157 or by email at djm13@psu.edu.

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