NIOSH issues warning on skidsteer loader hazards

Popular vehicles involved in fatal accidents

Skidsteer loaders are proving to be so hazardous that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati is issuing a special warning to occupational health providers and offering advice on how to prevent injuries and deaths from this common piece of equipment.

A skidsteer loader is a small, four-wheel vehicle with a scoop bucket on the front operated by hydraulic lift arms. The loader is compact and highly maneuverable, making it popular for use in agriculture, construction and general industry for materials handling and excavation. The popularity of the vehicle and certain inherent hazards have led to numerous deaths and injuries, according to a recent special alert from NIOSH.

Using death certificates issued from 1980 to 1992, NIOSH identified 54 work-related fatalities involving skidsteer loaders. The largest portion of those deaths, 46%, resulted when the worker was pinned between the bucket and frame of the machine or between the lift arms and frame. Fifteen percent involved crushing incidents without further details, 11% involved rollovers, and a worker was pinned between the loader and another object in 2%. In 1% of the accidents, someone was run over by the skidsteer loader.

NIOSH also reports there were 65 more fatalities in which someone was pinned between the bucket and frame or between the loader lift arms and frame, but the vehicle was not specifically identified as a skidsteer loader. The researchers say many of those fatalities probably involved a skidsteer loader, so the reported risk probably is underestimated.

The current regulations from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Washington, DC, do not specifically address skidsteer loaders, but they do require employers to protect workers from several hazards associated with the machines. OSHA standards covering motor vehicles, mechanized equipment, and marine operations can be used to protect workers from the hazards of skidsteer loaders, NIOSH reports. These are the OSHA regulations that apply to skidsteer loaders:

· Seat belts meeting construction standards must be provided. [29 CFR 1926.602(a)(2)]

· All bidirectional machines must be equipped with a horn distinguishable from the surrounding noise level, and it shall be operated as needed when the machine is moving in either direction. [29 CFR 1926.602(a)(9)(i)]

· Scissors points on all front end loaders must be guarded. [29 CFR 1926.602(a)(10)]

· Buckets and similar equipment must be fully lowered or blocked when being repaired or not in use. All controls must be in a neutral position, with the motors stopped and the brakes set, unless the work being performed requires otherwise. [29 CFR 1926.600(a)(3)(I)]

· Equipment built on or after Sept. 1, 1972, must be equipped with rollover protection meeting the minimum standards prescribed in 29 CFR 1926.1001 and 1926.1002 or be able to support at least two times the weight of the equipment. [29 CFR 1926.1000(b) and 1926.1000(c)(2)]

· No modifications or additions affecting the capacity or safe operation of the equipment shall be made without the manufacturer's written approval. [29 CFR 1926.602(c)(ii)]

Accidents involve poor operating procedure

The NIOSH report details six fatal accidents with skidsteer loaders, all involving poor operating procedure and sometimes intentional circumventing of safety features. Fatalities often occur when the operator leaves the vehicle to attend to a problem, such as an accumulation of snow or mud on the vehicle, and accidentally contacts the vehicle controls while standing underneath the raised bucket or in another dangerous area.

To avoid such accidents, NIOSH makes these recommendations:

· Operate the loader from the operator's compartment, never from the outside.

· Stay seated when operating the loader controls.

· Work with the seat belt fastened and the restraint bar in place.

· Keep your arms, legs, and head inside the cab while operating the loader.

· When possible, plan to load, unload, and turn on level ground.

· For maximum stability, travel and turn with the bucket in the lowest position possible.

· Never exceed the manufacturer's recommended load capacity for the machine.

· Operate only on stable surfaces.

· Avoid traveling across slopes. Travel straight up or down a slope with the heavy end of the machine pointed uphill.

· Always face the direction of travel.

· Keep bystanders away from the work area.

· Never modify or bypass safety devices.

· Enter the loader only when the bucket is flat on the ground, or when the lift arm supports are in place.

· When entering the loader, face the seat and keep a three-point contact with handholds and steps.

· Never use foot or hand controls for steps or handholds.

· Keep walking and working surfaces clean and clear.

· Before leaving the operator's seat, lower the bucket flat to the ground, set the parking brake, and turn off the engine.

[Editor's note: For the complete NIOSH report, contact NIOSH at (800) 356-4674 and request publication No. 98-117 or visit the NIOSH home page at]