Skid-steer loaders have become an essential piece of equipment on modern dairy farms. Today’s skid-steer loaders are fast, powerful and, most importantly, versatile – helping you tackle all the tasks at hand on any given workday on the farm.

In addition to performance improvements, safety features available for skid steers have also greatly advanced.

Safety is especially important on the farm, as it not only protects your livestock but also your machine operators and workers, who are often family members. Equipment damage and accidents can mean reduced production, decreased performance, lost revenue and potential operator injury.

Additionally, violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards can result in fines or even operation shutdown in severe cases.

For dairy farm operations, four safety factors are particularly important to consider when spec’ing a skid-steer loader: visibility, the exhaust system, emergency and everyday operation safety features.


Enhanced visibility

Many skid-steer loader accidents and injuries occur because of poor visibility. Fortunately, some of today’s advanced skid-steer loaders are equipped with visibility-enhancing features that help prevent injury to nearby workers and livestock. They also help minimize damage to buildings, fences, pens and the machine itself. Some key safety features to look for include:

  • Narrow lift arms reduce blind spots.

  • Expanded window surfaces that extend all the way to the floor of the cab allow operators to see clearly out of both sides of the machine. They also provide a clear view of the machine’s wheels and surrounding terrain.

  • The side windows should not only provide good visibility but also vent open to the front and rear to allow for communication between the driver and other workers on-site.

  • A rearview mirror provides a panoramic view of the rear and sides of the machine.

  • Rearview cameras are now being installed in newer-model skid-steer loaders – allowing operators to be fully aware of their 360-degree surroundings at all times.

Exhaust systems

Many older-model skid-steer loaders and several current makes are equipped with exhaust systems that direct exhaust out of the machine from the side and rear. It’s easy to imagine the injury and harm this can cause, as these extremely hot exhaust fumes can harm your employees or livestock standing near the machine.

They can also ignite airborne debris such as hay, bedding, feed and silage.

With the close working quarters on today’s farms, it is important to find a skid-steer loader with an exhaust system that cools the engine exhaust gas and directs it up and away from ground level. All air flow should exit the machine vertically rather than to the side or rear to avoid damage.

In the event of an emergency

One of the most important safety precautions to practice while operating a skid-steer loader, or any machine with lift arms and attachments, is to never exit the machine while the lift arms are raised. In the event of an unexpected engine shutdown, it is important to have more than one method of lowering the lift arms so the operator can safely exit the machine.

Hydraulic accumulators allow the operator to lower the loader arms if electrical power is available and the accumulator is charged. If the accumulator is not charged, or if there is no electrical power, a dead engine lower lever allows the operator to manually lower the arms. Both of these features are not offered on every skid-steer loader.

Improving safety during everyday operations

Creating a consistently safe environment on the farm or ranch is vital for a successful operation. To ensure this, there have also been significant advancements designed specifically to help improve safety during everyday operations.

  • An operator presence system requires the operator to be in the machine with the arm bars lowered before the engine will start. Once the engine is started, the parking brake will remain set and the hydraulic system locked out until the operator depresses a switch to activate the machine.

  • Fully sealed and pressurized cabs equipped with an air filtration system help minimize inhalation of contaminants and dust that mix with the air during everyday operations. These cabs are also quieter, which allows operators to focus on the tasks at hand and reduces their fatigue at the end of a long day.

  • Spring-applied hydraulic release parking brakes engage and lock the hydraulics out automatically when the arm bars are raised or when the engine is not running.

As machine performance improves, so should safety measures and precautions. Skid-steer loaders should always be equipped with proper safety features to support the performance capabilities of the machine.

This is why it is so important for dairy farmers to stay up-to-date on the latest safety guidelines, procedures and feature advancements when spec’ing or purchasing a new machine. It is important to also pass that knowledge along to their operators, who should be properly trained in order to maintain a safe working environment.  end mark

PHOTO: Skid-steer loader. Staff photo.

Jeff Brown
  • Jeff Brown

  • Compact Equipment Product Specialist
  • Caterpillar Inc.
  • Email Jeff Brown