Real-life scenario: Reno County (Kan.) authorities said a 12-year-old boy died and 3 others were injured on September 5, 2010, at the scene of an accident northeast of Partridge, Kan., where community members were holding a hayrack ride. Reno County Undersheriff Sheldon Stewart says the 4 children were riding in a loader attached to the front of the tractor when they fell off and were run over by the tractor. Excerpt from the Hutchinson (Kan.) News

Tractor loaders and attachments are invaluable tools for rural landowners. Unsafe use, however, can have tragic, even fatal consequences. Educating customers about safe operation are critical dealer responsibilities, and failing to heed those responsibilities could put dealers in jeopardy, as well as their customers.

“Safety has to be ‘job 1,’ no matter what we do,” says Steven Johnson, Ph.D., with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Part of this safety mantra is record keeping. Selling new and used equipment to an inexperienced or untrained customer, and selling used/refurbished inventory are both serious liability risks for today’s dealerships, says Dave Hartman, Sentry Insurance business segment executive for dealer operations.

Dealerships can’t be too diligent in educating customers and ensuring only fit equipment is sold or rented.

“Retaining clear records of your efforts to inspect equipment, making appropriate repairs and upgrades, and properly educating customers may help to successfully defend your dealership from insured and uninsured damages if a customer is injured,” says Hartman.

Know the Equipment

Experts say dealers must stress the importance of reading the operator’s manual. “Even if someone looks like an expert, don’t assume they are,” says Johnson.

Refer to the operator’s manual during an equipment “walk around,” says Scott Marshall, Alo North America product manager.

Point out the warning labels, shields and guards. Demonstrate how to safely hitch and unhitch loader attachments or implements, discussing the hydraulics, a 3-point hitch or power take-off shaft, depending on the attachment. Put downward pressure on the attachment before moving or raising it to ensure it is securely attached.

Teaching Safety

Rob Gilles, marketing manager, Doosan Infracore Construction Equipment (Bobcat brand), says there is a “learning curve” with attachments.

He recommends dealers advise customers to test drive the tractor with the attachment, then test the attachment with smaller loads or jobs and watch how the tractor’s center of gravity is affected.

Marshall says dealers should discuss maximum load specifications and the use of counterweights to avoid accidental rollovers. Experts also stress the importance of being aware.

“People tend to have a forward mentality,” says Gilles. Remind customers to look behind, beside, above and ahead.

Other ‘Musts’

Experts say dealers need to offer after-the-job safety advice, as well. For example, lower the loader to the ground after use and shut off the tractor engine and wait for implement motion to stop before performing maintenance. Remind customers about safe maintenance practices, too. A hydraulic leak, for example, could lead to a life-threatening illness if fluid enters the skin.

Dealer Takeaways

  • Don’t assume a customer is an expert with loaders, even if they appear to be.
  • Have customers operate their tractor with a loader attached so they understand how the tractor’s center of gravity changes.
  • Dealers MUST keep accurate records of loader inspections, maintenance and upgrades to minimize liability risks.

There’s much to remember regarding safe operation of loaders and attachments – which is why dealer involvement is so critical.

“The dealer is often the best source of information for many customers,” says Gilles.

“Some people will absorb the information and some won’t,” adds Marshall, “but at least you can say ‘I took the time to do my job professionally and will always be there to further support the customer."

Click here for a quick list of loader safety tips. 

Click here to see an example of a customer hand-off checklist.