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Release: Immediate

UI occupational health and safety researchers warn against skid-steer loader injuries

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- As storm cleanup efforts continue around the state, occupational health and safety experts at the University of Iowa are warning Iowans to follow safe operating procedures while working with skid-steer loaders.

Skid-steer loaders are most commonly used in agriculture and construction for excavating and moving materials, but this summer they're also being used to clear debris from residential and recreational areas damaged by tornadoes and thunderstorms. Regardless of how they're used, skid-steer loaders can pose certain injury risks to those who operate them, said John Lundell, coordinator of the UI Injury Prevention Research Center.

"Skid-steer loaders are capable of rollover or runover accidents, but they also have features that can cause injuries," he said. For example, the operator's seat and controls on a skid-steer loader are located between the machine's lift arms and in front of the lift-arm pivot points. Thus, operators must enter and exit from the loader through the front of the machine and over the bucket.

"If an operator doesn't enter or exit a skid-steer loader properly, a foot or hand control may be accidentally activated, causing the lift arms or bucket to move and perhaps causing injury," Lundell said.

Earlier this year, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued an alert on the hazards of working with skid-steer loaders. The NIOSH's Fatality Assessment Control and Evaluation (FACE) Program, a national database of work-related fatalities to which UI researchers contribute data, identified 37 deaths involving skid-steer loaders from 1992-1997. Twenty-nine, or 78 percent, of the fatalities resulted from a person being pinned between the bucket and frame of a machine, or between a loader's lift arms and frame.

The NIOSH alert noted that skid-steer loaders now come equipped with rollover protective structures (ROPS), side screens and seat belts to protect operators. Plus, since the 1980s skid-steer loader manufacturers have installed interlocked control systems on the machines. These require that a non-operational control or fixture--such as a seat belt or restraint bar--be secured or activated before a loader's controls will work.

Nevertheless, Lundell said, skid-steer loader operators may modify, disable or bypass these safety devices, or use the machines in ways that go beyond the manufacturers' specifications. The various types of jobs in which skid-steer loaders are used, such as tree and branch removal after a storm, can raise the risk of injuries. "Considering the amount of storm damage we've had in Iowa this summer, these machines have gotten a lot of work," he said. "Operators need to follow safe working procedures."

For more information on how to prevent injuries related to skid-steer loaders, call the UI Injury Prevention Research Center at (319) 335-4458.