Digger Services

Safety tips to avoid accidents in a digger/bobcat

Many things can and do go wrong if you don’t follow sensible safety procedures when operating a digger or bobcat. Accidents happen, and you might think smaller machines are safer, but they are often less stable and therefore more liable to tip than large-based tracked or wheeled machines.

Here is a guide to some essential safety tips to ensure your job goes smoothly and doesn’t end in tragedy.

Before you start

Obviously, it’s important to have the appropriate training and instruction in the use of the machine before attempting to drive it.

Keep the mirrors clean and check that they are positioned correctly. Before you start work, check that all control levers are operating properly and familiarise yourself with them. Always wear the seatbelt when you are operating the digger, and never try to operate any of the controls from outside the cab.

Make sure you can see your surroundings clearly at all times – wear sunglasses to cut down any glare. If you can’t see properly, you hugely increase your risk of disaster. You should also wear appropriate full-length clothing, boots and gloves.

Be aware of what’s around you

Remember, you are responsible for what is in your operating environment. Always think ahead about what safety issues could arise. Plan what you are going to do before you do it. Always know where other workers are.

Don’t let anyone ride on the machine, either outside or in the cab. You should be the only person in or near the digger. Fence off a safety area before you start work, and make sure no one enters this area.

Before you dig, you should have the area checked for underground structures, such as electrical, gas or water lines.

Take note of what is overhead, e.g. electrical lines, trees, etc, that could lead to electrocution, or cause the digger to catch and unbalance.

When swinging the arm around, do this very slowly and vigilantly, making sure there are no people or objects in the way.

Positioning the digger

Don’t traverse slopes diagonally or horizontally. Vertical is most stable. When travelling uphill, keep the boom and arm extended, with the bucket carried low. That way, if you start to slide, you can drop the bucket to dig in and stop you sliding. When travelling downhill, the bucket should be low and parallel to the ground.

On very slippery or steep slopes, you can use the bucket to help pull you up. To move the digger down a hill or onto a downhill slope, you can place the bucket on the ground, with the flat surface resting on the ground. You can retract the boom until the bucket comes to meet the front of the tracks, then move it up and out of the way. This gives you a bit of emergency braking assistance.

Loading a truck is easier if the digger is positioned higher than the truck. If this isn’t possible, and both are at ground level, have the truck facing away from the digger, to the side of it. Never swing the arm over the truck cab.

Safe foundations

If you’re working on the side of a large, steep slope, you can cut a shelf into it for the digger to sit on levelly.

When digging a trench, make sure your tracks are level. You can drop earth under the tracks as you go, to level the area you are driving on.

Avoid digging near the edge of the digger, and never dig underneath it. This could cause it to tip.

Get used to the weight the digger can comfortably handle, and don’t exceed this, or it could tip.

When filling in an excavation or a cave-in, the tracks should be level and at an angle to the side of the excavation.

After you’ve finished work

When cleaning the bucket, don’t ram it hard upwards against the arm linkage. If lightly knocking it doesn’t work, you’ll need to clean it out by hand. Never strike the bucket against the ground or another object to loosen material.

When you’ve finished using the digger, leave it on a level surface, with the bucket or other attachment resting on the ground. Turn the auto idle switch off and run the engine at half throttle to help cool down the turbocharger. Turn the RPM to low idle before turning off the engine with the key. Do not leave the digger engine running when it’s not in use.

Be sure to lock the cab when you have finished for the day.

To prevent wear, clean off material built-up from between the tracks. To avoid condensation in the fuel tank, fill it at the end of the day, and make sure you’re using the right fuel for the vehicle.


When hauling a digger, make sure the trailer you are loading it onto is parked on a flat, firm surface. Chock the wheels of the trailers to prevent it from moving.

Have someone outside to guide you both off and onto the trailer at each end of the trip.

Before you drive the digger onto the trailer, turn off auto idle and set RPM to low. Always drive forward, slowly, with the boom and arm at a 90 degree angle and the bucket nearly resting on the trailer.

Once you’re on, the boom and arm should be tucked into the transport position. You may need to remove the bucket to reduce the height of the unit for transport. Before exiting the machine, close off the hydraulics and lock the cab.

Secure the machine at each corner to the trailer. Before you leave, make sure you know the height of the machine plus trailer to the ground, in case you have to pass under height restricted bridges or similar.

Make sure you know the regulations about ‘over dimension’ vehicles if you are exceeding the normal load of the trailer, or if using an oversized trailer. Know what flags, banners or lights you need to display on the road, for example, if your digger overhangs the edges of the trailer. There are also time of day restrictions and weather (visibility) restrictions on oversized loads/vehicles.

Consider hiring a professional service

If you have no experience and you’re not trained to drive a digger or other earth moving equipment, our recommendation is that you hire a professional. Experienced operators can get done in an hour what might take you most of a day, and so they really are worth their hourly rate. Give us a call at Digger Services Auckland if you’d like to make an enquiry or get a quote.