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Pro Tips for Superior Skid-steer Operation

In the right hands, skid-steer loaders have the ability to transform a job site in a flash.

But, as good as they are with moving dirt, they need to be treated with respect to keep you safe and keep your equipment in proper working order.

Here are some guidelines for your first time inside the cab.  

Give your machine an inspection

Skid-steer loaders are known for being nimble to work with, but the mechanics behind that functionality are worth knowing, too.

The lift arms positioned on either side of the cab make digging and transporting material possible. Take some time to get to know these arms and how they operate. Very often, their design will shape how you dig and lift.

Next, turn your attention to the bottom of the loader and note whether it has tracks or wheels. This will determine how you steer the loader and the impact it leaves on the ground. A track system, for instance, distributes weight more broadly than wheels do, so that can be an advantage on some surfaces. Sometimes, it helps to have wheels, especially if you are working on firmer surfaces.

Once you’ve laid eyes on the machine, be sure to read the operator’s manual to understand it thoroughly before you begin any work.

Start by protecting yourself

Because job sites have uneven surfaces and loaders have moving parts, it’s important to approach skid-steer loaders with caution. Stepping in can be difficult if you’re unfamiliar with how your loader is laid out. When getting in and out, make contact with three points of the machine. This will help stabilize you as you move and prevent you from falling.

Once in the loader, get yourself situated by fastening your seat belt. Learn where the controls are, such as the throttle and steering, so you’re ready to go when it’s time to get moving.

Go for a dry run

Once you have the loader started and before you pick up any dirt, get a feel for how to drive the machine. Position the bucket slightly above the ground to keep it from dragging and picking up unnecessary dirt. Don’t bring it up too high or you’ll lose visibility.

The arms are another component to watch closely as you operate the machine. Because they move up and down alongside the cab, they can block your peripheral views. Learn to make the most of your vantage point and be mindful of your surroundings.

Stay grounded

Job sites are always in flux, with crews and equipment moving in and out. Often, the ground bears the brunt of all that commotion, becoming unstable along the way. This can make operating a skid-steer loader a topsy-turvy experience without the right precautions.

As an operator, there are some steps you can take to maintain your center of gravity. First, keep an eye out for any incline on the job site. Steer clear of any major hills, especially while carrying a load. Loaders are heavy, but even they can sometimes flip or roll over.

If your bucket is full, avoid bringing it up too high. It’s fine to lift it so you can see around it, but bear in mind that the higher up you go, the more you upset the balance of the loader. Move gently and bring the bucket down as soon as you can to dump.

Control your bucket

Once you’ve developed a touch with the controls, you can use the bucket for a variety of purposes from digging to spreading and smoothing. Keep it low and flat to scoop dirt. Lift and tuck it back to move it. Bring the bucket forward to dump. Make use of the outside to shape the ground. It’s an extremely versatile tool.

When you’re done with the machine, bring the bucket down to the ground. Not only does this help stabilize the machine, it also makes it much easier to step out after a hard day’s work.

The best way to get comfortable with a skid-steer loader is through one of our operator safety courses. In each class, we’ll cover safety precautions, as well as the inner workings of today’s machines, so you can load with confidence. Get in touch to find out more.


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