How to Safely Remove Snow with a Skid Steer

Plow trucks are great—don’t get us wrong. However, their size and power aren’t always to your benefit as a commercial snow removal business. Sure, a truck outfitted with a plow can move a lot of snow, but when you’re in a client’s cramped (or complicated) parking lot, sometimes you want something more mobile, with some speed and the right amount of power to move you around the lot and get to the next job.

A skid steer or skid loader is the perfect vehicle for both power and speed when it comes to snow removal. However, skid steer safety training is non-negotiable; it’s nothing like operating a plow truck and, without it, you face some major liability issues.

Using a Skid Steer for Snow Removal

You’ve seen a skid steer before if you’ve ever driven past a construction site. To put it simply, it resembles a much smaller excavator with the added advantage of a liftable front arm that is moved up and down using hydraulics.

Due to its size, a skid steer has a lower center of gravity, giving it extra maneuverability in freezing conditions. Beyond that, it’s a faster and less expensive alternative to a plow truck. Its compactness also allows it into tighter spaces than a truck, which are a dime a dozen in this business.

Key Dangers of Using a Skid Steer

We wouldn’t recommend buying a skid steer secondhand off Craigslist and hopping right in. Like any construction vehicle, they are heavy, dangerous, and not exactly intuitive to operate. Without first understanding the dangers of operating a skid steer you’ll find yourself courting catastrophe. Let’s dive into the most common dangers and how to avoid them.

Cross walk sign on a street covered in snow from a winter storm.

Pedestrian Dangers

Operating a skid steer in a customer’s parking lot comes with many risks. The chances of pedestrian accidents are higher, especially if you’re plowing during business hours. Part of your safety guidelines should include training on skid steer maneuvering in an actual parking lot. Furthermore, you should train yourself and all of your operators on the common blind spots; the last thing you want to do is not see a pedestrian when you’re operating the vehicle. It’s important to remember that an accident involving a pedestrian and a skid steer is oftentimes serious if not fatal.

Vehicle Collisions

A skid steer is not driven like a truck. Even if some of the controls are familiar to you, the vehicle itself maneuvers in a completely different way than you’re probably used to, due to its lower center of gravity, oversized wheels, and differential steering.

Operating a skid steer on a construction site is one thing; most likely everyone around you understands site safety and the most common obstacles are cleared away. However, a parking lot changes constantly; vehicles come and go constantly. With that said, ensure you and your fleet have a healthy appreciation for giving vehicles a wide berth.

Rollovers

Have you ever operated a forklift? If so, you’ve probably been trained on the potential for a rollover or tip over. The same principles are true with a skid steer. Luckily, skid steers come with plenty of safety features to keep you safe from a rollover injury should one occur.

Most rollover injuries occur when an operator attempts to exit the vehicle after a rollover as the vehicle is becoming unstable. However, the operator seat is always where you find the most protection. To put it simply, stay in your seat until the vehicle comes to a complete rest. Rollovers can be alarming, but you’ll get more hurt trying to bail than if you stay put.

Hazardous Conditions

Perhaps the most hazardous part of operating a skid steer for snow removal is the snow and ice itself. Slick surfaces make any vehicle dangerous. With that in mind, have your operators practice operating a skid steer on slick surfaces before you throw them out into the field.

Precautions You Can Take with a Skid Steer

A large part of appreciating the power of a skid steer is to take the necessary precautions to get ahead of potential accidents. When you minimize the number of things that can go wrong in the first place, you automatically start the day much safer.

Wrench on a hydraulic line for a skid steer used in snow removal.

Daily Equipment Inspections

Just like with your plow trucks, inspect all of the equipment that you’ll be using before you get to work. We found a convenient skid steer safety checklist from Northwestern University. This is a safety checklist that they use daily to ensure the safe operation of their skid steers.

Be Prepared with the Right Equipment

Operating a skid steer means you should be wearing safety glasses and a sturdy pair of boots at the very least.

Most of all, ensure you have a pair of skid steer arm supports and that they’ve been inspected. Any time your skid steer bucket is raised for service you need to use arm supports to ensure the arms do not suddenly fall; arm support interlock over the lift arms and hold them up, regardless of the state of the hydraulics.

Know Your Parking Lots

More than anything, know where you’re working. This safety principle is true no matter what vehicle you’re using or where you’re working. Before you begin plowing a customer’s properties, you should have already done a dry run and mapped the property. If you do this right, you’ll have the confidence to efficiently plow the space.

Safety is Planned

If you take just one thing away from our advice, it should be that safety is never left to chance. It’s planned ahead of time by recognizing potential hazards and taking proactive measures to mitigate them. Skid steers are fast and powerful, which can make your job much easier, but with great power, also comes great responsibility!

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