Front-end loaders are indispensable attachments for compact tractors. Loaders make light work of small farm and gardening tasks including lifting and transporting material such as wood, rocks, soil and debris. While loaders may assist in completing daily tasks, they can be dangerous if basic safety precautions are not followed. As with any piece of equipment, operators should become familiar with front-end loader functions and maintenance, and avoid situations that may lead to injury.
Always read and follow the manufacturer provided operator’s manual before using a front-end loader. Although many units have similar features, there may be safety and operation features unique to each loader attachment. If the operator’s manual cannot be found, obtain a replacement by contacting the equipment manufacturer or a local dealer. A tractor and the attachments are unable to control their own operation and rely on the operator to be responsible and safety conscious.
A front-end loader, especially when loaded, can cause a weight distribution imbalance that can lead to instability and rollovers. Sharp turns, erratic operation and uneven terrain can also increase the risk of rollovers. Before completing a project with the loader attached, follow these procedures:
• Use a rollover protective structure (ROPS)-equipped tractor and a seat belt for protection in the event of a rollover.
• Adjust the width of the tractor wheels so they are as wide apart as is practical.
• Ballast the tractor loader combination as recommended by the manufacturer, or attach wheel weights to the rear axles or wheel rims. Weight may also be carried by a three-point hitch attachment.
• Keep the bucket as low as possible when turning or transporting materials, and watch carefully for obstructions and depressions.
• Drive smoothly, avoiding quick starts, stops and turns.
• Make sure the ground is level and free from holes or depressions before raising the loader to its full height.
• Carry loads as low as possible to the ground, and do not travel with the bucket in the raised position.
Unsafe for travel.
Safe for travel.
Loading and Traveling Safety
Front-end loaders change the physical and handling characteristics of a tractor, especially when loaded with material. Maneuverability and machine clearances are functionally different when compared to operating tractors without the loader attachment. Pay attention to these differences and adjust operations accordingly.
• Keep travel speed slow.
• Raise and lower the loader arms slowly and steadily.
• Raise the loader in an area free from overhead obstacles, such as power lines.
• Load the bucket evenly from side to side, and keep within the normal capacity of the tractor and loader.
• Use caution when handling loose or shifting loads.
• Allow for the extra length of the loader attachment when making turns.
• Keep the loader low while carrying loads and/or while driving on an incline.
• Drive with loaded buckets facing uphill rather than downhill, and stay off steep slopes to prevent bouncing and loss of control.
• Keep the tractor away from the outer edges of banks and slopes.
• Do not ever tow a tractor by attaching a tow chain or a cable to the loader.
Operator and Bystander Safety
Front-end loaders are often used in situations where there are bystanders and helpers. The operator often leaves the seat of the tractor to remove material from the bucket. Follow these recommendations to avoid bystander and operator injury:
• Do not ever lift or carry people in the bucket.
• Do not move or swing a load should with people in the work area.
• Do not ever walk or work under a raised loader.
• Avoid putting the hands or fingers near pinch or crush points.
• Operate the controls only when seated on the tractor.
• Use the safety support locks on the cylinders, if equipped, in the event the loader must be raised for maintenance.
• Jepsen, S.D., Michael Wonacott, Peter Ling, and Thomas Bean. Tailgate Safety Training for Landscaping and Horticultural Services: Tractor Loader Safety, AEX-192.1.80. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Extension, 2006.
Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering