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Make safety a priority this silage season

Make safety a priority this silage season

As the silage season edges closer, Teagasc Health & Safety Specialists, Francis Bligh and John McNamara highlight what you should keep in mind to ensure safety on farm.

Advance planning

Silage season calls for advance planning and even farmers and contractors with years of experience need to be aware of the dangers associated with this activity and take the necessary precautions. Farmers and contractors should avoid rushing the job, as not taking enough time and care can result in disastrous consequences.


Challenging weather this spring has delayed many farm tasks like tillage operations, slurry and reseeding. This delayed work is now putting pressure on farmers and contractors as silage season commences.  It is very important to maintain a focus on health and safety on the farm and also to be cognisant of the challenges faced by contractors due to this extra work.

Support contractors in managing health and safety

The current heavy workload is forcing contractors to prioritise time critical work. They must do this to keep working hours at a safe level. It is important to have conversations with your contractor well in advance of work to be done and be patient given the back log of work to be completed due to the wet weather all spring. Long working hours will increase driver fatigue. Fatigue will impact on a machine operator’s ability to manage their machine in a safe way. Farmers must support contractors in their efforts in this regard. Listening to contractors and proactively working with them in relation to planning work will go a long way to manage this high risk activity.

It is also important to ensure that payments to contractors are made as they fall due. Keeping an up to date well maintained fleet of machines and employing highly skilled operators is dependent on a contractor’s ability to maintain positive cash flow.


Everybody, including family members not directly involved in the task should be kept away from the harvest, particularly children. Children need to be well supervised at all times during harvesting. The farmyard should be a ‘no go area’ for children during harvest time. Provide a ‘Safe Play Area’ as an alternative. Don’t ask contractors to give a child a ‘spin’ on their tractors and machines.


All machines must be properly maintained and be appropriate to the task. Brake lines, hydraulic hoses and hitching equipment must be checked regularly. Where hitches are loose, worn or damaged they must be repaired or replaced. Lights and flashing amber beacons must be working when driving on a public road.


Fire is a real and present danger during silage season. It is important to regularly clean down machines. Make sure fire extinguishers are present, checked and refilled regularly.


It is important to take time to improve visibility and point out electrical lines and other hazards as appropriate to contractors when large machinery is being used. When operating machinery, it is important to be aware of blind spots especially around the farm yard and at road access and egress points.

Secure loads

Before entering the public road ensure that loads are properly secured. On the road, always drive at a safe speed. Additional care is needed on narrow country roads and a warning vehicle may need to drive ahead of wide vehicles such as mowers or harvesters.

Stacking bales

When stacking round silage bales where there is sufficient space, it is best to store all round bales one high on their flat ends. If round bales of silage must be stacked, the safest stacking method is on their curved sides in a pyramid stack. The bales on the outside of the bottom row should be prevented from moving by means of chocks or other supports. The maximum height of the stack should be 3 bales high. For information on working safely with bales on the farm refer to H.S.A booklet.

Silage pit

Operating height of a silage pit should not exceed 6 metres. The sides and ends must be finished at an angle of not greater than 45 degrees. The height of the silage being rolled should never be more than double the height of the retaining walls. Sighting rails should be maintained along silage walls. The working width for rolling the silage across the top of any clamp or pit should be at least three times the full vehicle width. Silage walls should be checked for integrity in advance of silage making. Never go under polythene, fermentation of silage takes place rapidly and oxygen depletion occurs, so asphyxiation could occur.

Tips for drivers

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has the following tips for drivers of agricultural vehicles at harvest time:

  • To wash down wheels regularly to avoid carrying mud and stones onto the public road.
  • To be particularly careful when transporting materials so that it does not spill on the road and pose a road safety risk.
  • Not to load overload trailers so as to cause them to be unstable on the road.
  • To look out for low bridges, overhanging trees, overhead cables and uneven road surfaces which could cause the load to shift and possibly overturn.
  • The driving mirror must provide an adequate view of the road to the rear and all agricultural vehicles must have proper working brakes on both tractor and trailer units. They also must be fitted with lights, reflectors and indicators.
  • That large farming vehicles should consider using an escort vehicle to warn other road users.
  • To ensure that tractors are driven at an appropriate speed for the road conditions.

For more information watch this Safety at Harvest Time video.