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Operating a Skid Steer

Operating a Skid Steer

What Is a Skid Steer?

Skid steer loaders, also called skid steers or skid loaders, are versatile machines. They have many attachments that allow them to play a variety of roles around the worksite. Skid steers may be lighter than compact track loaders and multi-terrain loaders—using tires instead of tracks—but they have the same general function.

Generally speaking, these loaders share a variety of characteristics that make them suitable for a wide range of tasks. First, they are maneuverable due to their ability to turn in their own tracks. They are also compact, allowing them access to areas larger equipment cannot go. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they are extremely versatile, with the ability to use scores of attachments for any number of jobs.

Throughout this article, we will discuss many of the important safety principles you, as a skid steer operator, must understand before getting behind the controls of a skid steer.

Are Skid Steers Easy To Operate?

As stated in the previous section, skid steers are one of the most versatile pieces of heavy machinery. This versatility can make specific training somewhat difficult. Fortunately, there are general safety principles that can provide you with information that will both increase your knowledge of skid steer operations and help keep you and those around you safe.

Operating a Skid Steer

There are many factors that go into operating a skid steer as well as things to consider before you even get behind the controls.

Skid Steer Loader Training

Anyone who operates heavy equipment must receive training and receive supervisor authorization prior to operating the machine on their own. When it comes to refresher training, OSHA’s standards in some instances (like forklifts) are very specific: operators must be re-evaluated every three years to see if they are still competent to operate the equipment. Best practices say to apply this same rule to all types of equipment, including skid steers.

Initial training, as well as any evaluations or refresher courses, must be documented with the name of the person or persons who taught the class or conducted the evaluation.

If you or your crew need training, you may check out our Skid Steer Operator Safety Training. We have online, kit, and onsite options. For more training topics, visit our website.

Construction work can be hazardous. Make sure you and your crew are following these skid steer tips to increase your chances of going home safely.

Plan Ahead

Safety begins long before the first hole is dug. Pre-plan for safety by setting up barricades, convex mirrors, warning signs, and other precautions. Because wind, pedestrians, and traffic can easily upset barricades, it is equally important that you maintain these as needed throughout the day so that no unauthorized bystanders or workers enter the work zone.

Just because skid steers can plow through all types of terrain doesn’t mean you do not have to be concerned about or pre-plan for certain site conditions. Ice, slopes, and soil conditions can all affect traction and stability.

Lastly, plan for the appropriate lighting, especially if you will be working in the early morning hours or at night. Do not drive in the dark unless the loader is equipped with operable lights. Using a truck’s headlights as the main source of light will not be sufficient. Poor lighting can affect visibility and lead to an accident.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed to keep you safe. As such, you should always wear it while operating your machine. Common PPE includes hard hats, reflective vests, gloves, safety-toed footwear, respiratory protection, and hearing protection.

When performing pre-shift inspections, wear gloves, especially if you’re handling batteries and checking hydraulic hoses for leaks. The “cardboard test” can help you check for leaks you cannot see on the backs of pressurized hoses without running the risk of fluid injection. Simply take a piece of cardboard and run it along the length of the hose to see if it shows signs of a leak.

If your machine does not have heating and air conditioning, particularly open-cab skid steers, it is important to dress for the weather. Wear lighter weight clothing in the summer and layers in the winter. This can protect you from any heat and cold stress that your body may encounter inside and outside of the machine.

Pre-Shift Inspections

Every day brings with it the potential for an accident when you’re working with heavy machinery. Pre-shift inspections are preventative in nature; if you do them right, they will prevent accidents from happening. They might even save your life or the life of those you work with. So, under no circumstances should you skip or skimp when it comes to consistently and thoroughly inspecting your equipment prior to use.


Never operate a machine that needs repair. The skid steer’s owner’s manual contains guidelines for inspections and maintenance. Follow those guidelines and document what kind of maintenance was done and when. If you take care of your body — inside and out — you’ll most likely live longer. The same goes for your skid steer. Don’t ignore it. Routine maintenance should be done “routinely,” and by someone who is trained and authorized to do so.

Enter & Exit Safely

Aside from pre-operation checks and planning, safe operations start with entering the machine safely. It may seem simple, but injuries from incorrectly entering the machine can and do happen all the time. This is especially true for skid steers. Here are some things to consider when entering the machine:

  • Always use three points of contact when entering a skid steer
  • Never use foot or hand controls for steps or handholds
  • Keep the handles and steps free from grease or grime
  • Be careful when the conditions are muddy, wet, or icy (one slip is all it takes)
  • Slowly and carefully rotate your body and ease back into the cab/seat
  • Position yourself comfortably to avoid injury or inadvertently hitting any controls
  • Fasten your seatbelt and lower the restraint/lap bar

When exiting, follow the same precautions. Also, make sure that the bucket or other attachment is flat on the ground, the parking brake is set, and the engine is turned off. Do not attempt to enter or exit the skid steer if the lift arms are raised unless the lift arm supports or locks have been engaged for the purpose of maintenance.

Operating & Communication

Once you have completed all inspections, performed maintenance, donned the proper PPE, and entered the cab safely, you are ready to begin working. One key thing to remember during operations is communication. It is one of the most effective ways to keep everyone on the worksite safe.

Audible communication—either by way of radio or face to face—is the best form of communication. If a conversation needs to take place face to face, lower the lift arms, engage the parking brake, turn off the machine, and take your hands off of the controls before allowing them to approach.

Depending on the application, attachments, and environment; it may be necessary to use hand signals to assist with load handling. For cranes, there are designated hand signals which must be posted on the crane and around the site, visible to operators at all times. Consider doing something similar for your skid steer.

You can decide which signs refer to certain actions, but everyone must be familiar with them and use the same signs. To avoid confusion, there should only be one designated signaler at a given time. However, everyone on site should be familiar with the emergency stop signal, which can be given by anyone on site at any given time.

Steering: Left & Right

The skid loader can be steered and maneuvered using different controls depending on the type of skid steer and the manufacturer. Foot pedals are used for several operations in the H pattern, ISO (Isolation), and some other configurations.

On each side of the seat for the H-pattern controls are joysticks. These two joysticks can move in the following ways:

  • Push the left joystick forward to move the left.
  • Push the right joystick forward to move to the right.
  • Push both joysticks forward simultaneously to move straight ahead.
  • Pull both joysticks back simultaneously to move the machine straight back.

The joystick on one side of the ISO controls moves and steers as described below:

  • Push the joystick forward and to the left to move the left.
  • Push the joystick forward and to the right to go to the right.
  • Push the joystick forward to move straight ahead.
  • Pull the joystick back to move it straight back.

Driving & Reversing

When approaching another operator in any type of machine, keep in mind that loaded units normally have right of way over empty units, and empty units should yield to those with loads. If you are unsure of another unit’s intention in a right-of-way situation, stop and determine their intent before proceeding.

Always keep a distance of at least three vehicle lengths when following another skid steer or any other machine. Be as familiar as you can with their intended path and with any potential obstacles or hazards that might cause them or you to stop abruptly. When you do have to stop, try to avoid doing so suddenly. The dynamic force imposed upon the machine can affect its stability and cause a tip-over, especially if you are carrying a heavy load.

Reversing in a skid steer can be tricky because hindsight is often extremely limited. In fact, some skid steers have virtually no visibility when reversing. Use a spotter or a radio if needed. Some skid steers come equipped with a backup camera to help you see who or what is behind the machine. Be sure to utilize this camera if it is available. Before operations, don’t forget to test its functionality and ensure that it’s angled correctly.

Understanding Safeguards

Skids steer loaders come equipped with current safeguards. As a skid steer operator, it is important to understand these safeguards and how they work to keep you safe.


In the early 1980s, skid steer manufacturers started fitting skid steers with interlocked control systems to prevent operators from accidentally turning on the machine’s controls. The nonoperational control or fixture (such as a seat belt or restraint bar) must be fastened or actuated before the interlocked controls can operate.

To prevent the lift arm from moving unless the seat belt is attached, certain machines connect the lift arm control to the seat belt. Some machines connect the lift arm control to a bar in front of the operator that must be lowered or to a pressure switch in the seat. Electronic solutions to implement the interlocking function have lately been launched by manufacturers.

Rollover Protective Structures

To safeguard the operator in the event of a rollover, skid steer loaders now feature rollover protection structures (ROPS), side screens, and seat belts. The operator won’t come into contact with moving lift arms thanks to the side screens.

Hazards Associated With Operating a Skid Steer

Now that we have discussed many of the important safety principles you need to follow as a skid steer operator, you must learn the many different hazards that are associated with operating a skid steer. There are several different safety hazards associated with operating a skid steer. These include the following hazards.

Struck-By Hazards

Individuals who operate a skid steer within a certain proximity of another heavy vehicle increase the risk of struck-by hazards. Skid steers are frequently employed in high-traffic locations. Therefore, if the operator does not take the time to survey their work area before reversing or turning quickly, it can be dangerous.

Anyone operating around a skid steer can stay safe by looking out for blind spots and using a spotter. It is your responsibility as an operator to use caution in order to avoid situations like this.

Crushing Hazards

Crushed-by hazards are also associated with skid steer operations. These accidents generally occur in one of two ways: Either the skid steer operator gets crushed (in a rollover) or another employee gets crushed by the skid steer.

It is always important to pay attention to the position of the lift arms and frame. Being aware helps to reduce the chance of an individual becoming trapped or crushed by the skid steer. As an operator, never lift more than the allowed weight, which is typically 30% to 50% of the working weight. This will help to avoid a rollover, preventing the operator from being crushed. It’s crucial that nobody ever does any work underneath an elevated skid steer attachment.

Pinching Hazards

With skid steers, pinch-point hazards are very frequent. Due to this, always use the appropriate PPE and take the time to obey safety instructions. To avoid becoming trapped in the machine’s hydraulics or pivot points, never place your hands or any other part of your body inside or near it.


Skid steers are commonly used for lifting heavy loads during operations. Load weight and stability can change and shift during transportation, which can result in a skid steer rollover. When traveling over uneven terrain or steep hills, it is also possible to slide sideways. As stated previously, never lift more weight than your machine is rated to lift in order to prevent these rollovers or tipovers.

Skid Steer Operator for Hire

Depending on the project at hand, the specific duties of a skid steer operator may vary. However, they typically involve:

  • Digging holes
  • Transporting material
  • Digging trenches
  • Helping to install pavement
  • Plowing snow

Skid steer operators’ jobs can range from full-time to part-time. These operators’ jobs can also be regular employment or contract work. You must have some hands-on experience operating a skid steer. In addition to that, you must have an understanding of the duties and responsibilities that are typically performed on construction sites.

Career Outlook

Overall, skid steer operators have a promising career outlook over the coming years. Reports indicate that there will be a 12% increase in skid steer operator jobs each year. Because of this, individuals who are pursuing this career will always have options available to them.

Skid steer certification training increases your earning potential as a construction worker to an average of $18 to $25 per hour. In addition to that, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics estimates that the average yearly salary in this industry is $48,000.