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Planning ahead is key to safe silage management

01 May 2020
Type Media Article

Silage making goes-on throughout the summer period. This article highlights key areas needing attention to avoid injuries at these times. - John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Specialist

Silage making time is a high risk time, due to the movement of machinery, persons and grass loads. However safety risks can be minimised by good planning and active consultation between farmers and contractor.

Silage making goes-on throughout the summer period with both ‘pit’ silage and wrapped bales being made. In Ireland, we are fortunate to have a modern silage making gear while the weather of late is favourable for this job. The current COVID- 19 emergency means that extra public health precautions are necessary.

This article highlights key areas needing attention to avoid injuries around the  silage making season. The majority of fatal accidents on farms occur due to  persons gets struck or crushed by a farm vehicle in or around a farmyard. Older farmer and children are particularly at risk, so communicating with these vulnerable groups about the risks is crucial to gain heightened safety awareness.  

Planning for Silage

  • Safety at Silage making requires a lot of organisation and co-operation between contractors and farmers. Contractors need to be able to produce evidence of having adequate insurance cover and that an Safety Statement has been prepared. Equally, farmers need to ensure that a Risk Assessment is conducted. If the work is considered unsafe by either party, the unsafe action should be stopped and followed by discussion to resolve the matter. 
  • Farm Yards need to be free of obstructions to allow the free flow of vehicle and   Well-maintained roadways allow machinery to travel safely. Good visibility is necessary at all access points to public roadways. Warning signs and bollards should be used only on road verges, it is not permitted to put them on the metalled road surface.
  • Examine routes of silage vehicles for  overhead cables.  Look out in particular for ESB Networks   poles that may have sagged and for overhead cables around the farmyard where trailers are tipping and machines are going high on pits.  Notify ESB Networks immediately of any safety issues with the supply network. Further advice is available at https://www.esbnetworks.ie/staying-safe/farm-safety
  • Silage walls need to be checked for integrity in advance of silage making.  Both silage and industrial loaders put substantial pressure on silage pit walls. When grass is wet the load increases and drainage pipes need to used. Care needs to be taken not to overfill silage pits. Silage should slope at 45 degrees from the height of the wall, but a level area  is needed at the centre of the pit of at least three times the loader width. Sighting rails fitted to walls as these indicate the location of the wall the loader driver. 
  • Children need to be well supervised at all times during silage making. The farmyard should be a ‘no go area’ for children without supervision during silage making.. Provide a ‘Safe play Area’ as an alternative. Don’t ask contractors to give a child a ‘spin’ on their tractors and machines.
  • Never go under the silage polythene when in place to cover silage. Fermentation of silage takes place rapidly and oxygen depletion occurs, so asphyxiation could occur.

Baled Silage 

  • Baled silage is made on about two-thirds of farms and accounts for about one-third of all silage made. It is the main system on both beef and smaller farms. It is also used a secondary system to preserve surplus grass on larger farms. In a 3-year period big bales were associated with 15% of farm workplace deaths. Fifty per cent arose due to a fall from height or a roll over. A half-tonne bale falling from height could  exert a force of 3 tonnes on impact. A further 50% of fatal accidents are associated with being crushed between tractor and bale, so never get into a  trap zone. When contractors are stacking silage bales don’t stack higher than the capacity of the farm silage loader to take the top bales down

Repairs at Silage time

  • Blockages and breakdowns of machinery lead to high injury risk. We are fortunate, by and large to have modern silage equipment in Ireland, with modern devices like blockage reversing mechanisms. However, taking time to apply key safety principles when a break-down occurs is crucial. For instance, turn off the PTO and stop the engine if a machine has to be unblocked manually.
  • Teagasc recently updated its Farm Workshop Safety Booklet outlining key safety methods. Use adequate equipment to prevent injury when repairing equipment. e.g. use of axle stands when changing a tyre.   When pumping tyres make sure a compressor is  properly maintained, fitted with pressure relief valve and an accurate pressure gauge is available. It is crucial that the airline hose between the clip-on chuck and the pressure gauge/control is long enough to allow the operator to stand outside the likely trajectory of any explosion during inflation.

Silage Effluent and Slurry

  • Slurry spreading follows-on rapidly after silage making.  To prevent deaths due to slurry gas poisoning, ventilate by always picking a windy day, open all doors and outlets and keep all persons away when agitating and handling slurry. Take care when working around slurry tank openings to prevent drowning and guard them to the fullest possible extent.
  • Silage Effluent is often diverted into slurry tanks to prevent water pollution. Effluent increases the level of   toxic hydrogen sulphide slurry gas levels produced by slurry due to acidification. Additionally, the warm summer conditions allow rapid fermentation of slurry.   Accordingly the key precautions apply of ventilating by choosing wind conditions and opening all vents along with evacuating all sheds of both stock and people.


  • COVID-19 presents a particular challenge at present. Farmers and Contractors should jointly consider how to implement Public Health Guidance on COVID-19 before silage or slurry spreading work commences.

Further comprehensive information on all aspects of Farm Health and Safety is available at the following Web sites: hsa.ie and www.teagasc.ie