Farm Safety – Top Safety Tips During Silage Harvesting Season

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has partnered with Axa and Agriland Media Group for an innovative campaign to promote greater awareness of farm safety.

According to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), summer has consistently been the most dangerous time of year on Irish farms over the past decade due to longer and busier working days.

As the year moves on, machinery will have been exposed to not only wear and tear, but also some damage while carrying out demanding work such as slurry spreading and silage harvesting.

With that in mind, as second-cut silage continues, this instalment of this digital-only, farm-safety campaign, focusses on safety during silage harvesting.

Prepare and plan

Preparation and planning are key to reducing the risks of incidents during silage making; reviewing the Farm Safety Code of Practice for your farm is essential in this regard.

The Code of Practice is a useful tool in identifying where you need to take action before silage season commences.

It helps to ensure that all facilities and equipment are checked, and that any deficiencies identified are brought up to standard.

It also means that the necessary precautions are put in place to protect everyone on the farm, particularly the elderly and children.

Time spent doing this simple, but important work, is time well spent.

Agricultural contractors are responsible for making the majority of silage and must be included in the safety conversation every time they come to carry out work on the farm.

When making arrangements with contractors, you must ensure that they are aware of any potential risks on your farm – particularly any changes since they were last on the farm – so that they can take measures to mitigate them.

Children and others around the farmyard

One of the first safety steps must always be to protect children, vulnerable adults, and others on the farm.

Anyone who is not involved in silage making should be excluded from the farmyard during this busy time.

Safe spots
You should identify certain locations around the farmyard where it is safe for an adult to stand if, for example, they need to get the attention of a machine driver.

Children are naturally attracted to big machinery and therefore, they must be always supervised and kept away from the farmyard.

Remember, children under the age of seven must never be carried as passengers on farm vehicles. Older children and adults should only ride in a tractor on a properly fitted passenger seat.

You must check if other adults/workers are due to be present in the farmyard during silage making and take precaution to ensure that they are not at risk.

But, ideally, postpone any other work until the silage is saved.


A tidy farmyard allows silage machinery to move easily through the it, improving both efficiency and safety.

The route to and from the silage pit should be clear of anything that hinders the movement of machinery or reduces a driver’s view and concentration. Ideally, a one-way system – which avoids or minimises reversing with trailers attached – should be in place.

There must be good lines of sight at the access and egress points from yards and fields to a public road.

Warning signs and cones should be used on road verges – not on the road surface – at entrances to farmyard and fields.

Internal roadways should be checked, and any rough surfaces repaired. If there are any low-hanging electrical wires, the ESB must be contacted well in advance so that they can rectify the issue before silage making commences.

Silage pit

Silage-pit height should never be more than double the height of the silage-pit wall, and it should slope at less than 45% above the walls.

Other factors which must be considered when assessing the safe height of the pit include:

  • Moisture content of the grass;
  • Condition of the silage pit walls;
  • Loader equipment;
  • Driver experience.

If there is inadequate pit capacity, then the surplus grass needs to be conserved as baled silage, rather than overfilling the pit.

Guide rails on silage-pit walls will show the location of the walls to the loader drive when the pit rises over the walls. They are not to retain machines.

They also provide some protection against a person falling when covering or opening a pit.

Grant aid is available for guide rails under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme.

When covering the pit, never go under the polythene cover due to risk of smothering or becoming overcome by gas – fermenting grass uses up the available oxygen.

Take care when placing tyres on the pit, particularly at the edge of the clamp.

Tractors and machinery

Tractors and machinery must be maintained in good working condition; they must also be checked, and the necessary repairs carried out before harvesting begins.

All tractor hitches and trailer eyes must be checked for wear and tear and replaced if worn.

Consider replacing the hook-and-eye hitch system with the ball-and-spoon system, which has lower wear rates and reduced shunting between tractor and trailer.

Power-take-off (PTO) shaft covers and guards must be in place – any other covers removed during repairs must be put back afterwards and any damaged covers replaced.

The PTO must be disengaged, the engine must be switched off, and the machine must be stopped before carrying out repairs or unblocking machinery. In the farmyard, the machine should be moved away from the pit to a safe area for repairs.

Many serious injuries and fatalities involve working with machinery, so drivers must be trained and competent to operate the machinery involved in silage making.

Remember, you should not wear loose clothing when operating machinery.

The incidence of work-related fatalities on farms increases during the summer months. Image source HSA

Dealing with tiredness
It is important that you recognise and deal with fatigue by getting sufficient rest in advance, taking breaks, and by getting someone else to take over if a driver is tired. Even if the job takes longer to complete, it is better than risking an incident.

On the road

All vehicles must be consistently well maintained to ensure that they are roadworthy. Lights, mirrors, beacon, indicators, and wipers must be in excellent working order. Also, you must check that lights and indicators are fitted to mounted and trailed machinery.

Machinery operators driving on public roads need to be conscious of other road users – drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists – as many will not be aware of the risks posed by large, wide machinery, particularly on narrow, winding roads.

As well as ensuring tractors and machinery are roadworthy, you should also familiarise yourself with the requirements for bringing wider self-propelled machines on the road.

This is particularly important when bringing self-propelled harvesters between different locations. Requirements relating to agricultural vehicles and machinery while travelling on public roads can be found on the Road Safety Authority’s website.

To drive in a public place, a tractor operator must be over 16 years’, have a category-W driving licence, and third-party insurance.

It is important that you drive at the appropriate speed for the category and condition of the road. Slow down at bends and anticipate oncoming traffic.

Drivers need to be vigilant for overhanging branches which could be knocked down, posing a risk to other road users.

Machinery on public roads must be operated at a speed that is safe for the tractor size and load.

Any soil deposited on to the public road by machinery must be removed at once as it could cause a road traffic accident.

In the field

Tractor speed, when drawing trailers of silage, must always be appropriate for the load, weather conditions, and the slope of the field.

Machinery operators must be aware of the location of overhead power lines on your farm.

There is a serious risk of injury or death from electrocution if machinery comes close to or makes contact with overhead electricity wires.

Machinery operators, in general, must always be vigilant for overhead powerlines.

The HSA recommends stacking round bales on their side. Image source HSA

Baled silage

Making round silage bales is a popular option nowadays on many farms. But in recent years, bales – falling from trailers or being stacked – have caused serious injuries and fatalities.

Round bales must always be secured and tied down during transport, especially when travelling on public roads.

Round bales are more stable when stacked on their sides on a solid, level site away from overhead power lines.

A pyramid stack is the safest, according to the HSA, but should be no more than three bales high.

A tractor must always be suitable for the load it is carrying, and the working conditions. Remember, without front or rear ballast, smaller tractors can become unstable when drawing bales, particularly on hilly ground.

Do not lift or stack bales higher than the capabilities of the handling equipment. But if you are using a contractor, you must ensure that the bales are stacked no higher than the capability of your equipment as this is what will be used to remove the bales.

Always think farm safety!

(Source – Agriland – Agriland Team – Sponsored – 14/07/2022)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rural Enterprise Skillnet
Rural Enterprise Skillnet

The Rural Enterprise Skillnet is funded by member companies and the Training Networks Programme, an initiative of Skillnets Ltd. funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills.

Read More