Be safe at silage and hay harvest

19 Sep, 2017 04:00 PM
The unfortunate and ugly reality is that something horrible can happen.

No one should regret taking the extra time or precautions to avoid accidents on-farm. I have seen and heard of too many deaths or near deaths and too many disfiguring/disabling injuries to be nice about this subject.

Like me, most readers will have heard about, seen or worse still, experienced, first-hand near misses of serious injury or possible death. These are wake-up calls.

There are legislation, laws, guidelines, warnings in equipment manual, signs denoting danger areas of machines and best of intentions but deaths, serious injuries or what could have been serious injuries still occur every season.

This is it because people too easily become complacent when no accidents have occurred for a long period and near misses are soon forgotten.

Farmers as employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for their workers and this includes contractors that they may engage.

Yes it is true that the contractor has responsibility toward their own workers, but ultimately it is the farmer who must ensure that the contractor they engage has the competency to do the job, has safe systems of work, has safe equipment, including being well maintained with relevant safety features for example guarding, warning devices, emergency stops, uses the relevant personal protective equipment and where necessary provides supervision to their employees.

These are the same responsibilities that the farmer has towards their own employees.

At the end of the day, the individual owner operating the equipment is responsible for their own safety. However, a farmer or contractor who has employees working their equipment is also ultimately responsible for their safety.

Unfortunately, some farm owners and contractors, despite the high penalty rates for doing so, sometimes coerce/cajole their workers to operate with poorly maintained or unsafe machinery, in unsafe working conditions and allow fatigue to occur due to inadequate breaks or lack of time for sleep.

Often these days, equipment operators are allowed to have portable music player leads stuck in their ears so they can't hear machinery malfunctions, warning calls, vehicle horns, etc. Worse still, many now have smart phones where they can listen to music, send SMS messages, check social media and talk to mates while operating expensive equipment in dangerous conditions.

Inexperience and lack of, or poor, on-the-job training has led to many accidents and these can be "business-breaking" experiences for the owner (farmer or contractor).

This is especially if they can't show credible evidence that they have trained their staff to be able to properly and safely operate their equipment.

High wages, pressure from farmers and weather conditions to get the job done yesterday, high cost of machinery, high maintenance and repair costs leading to high and fast throughput results in many corners being cut and safety concerns neglected, reduced or overlooked.

A major issue for safety is when everything becomes routine, nothing or little ever goes wrong. Getting away with dubious actions or removing annoying safety shields allows complacency to creep in.

The unfortunate and ugly reality is that something horrible can happen. When it does, it impacts on the person, their workers and friends.

It impacts on the business's ability to do the work.

It impacts on the families of those involved.

Most injuries that require immediate medical attention or admission to hospital will be required to be reported to the health and safety regulator and the workcover agent. This is a responsibility for the employer and may result in an investigation by the regulator.

Some incidents I have heard about make me cringe every time I think about them. I have heard of guys trying to unblock baler pick-ups while they are still turning and the tynes grabbing a sleeve or arm.

Even at idle, the pick-up is quick and strong, and a baler trying to feed a body through the rollers or throat may stall the tractor but the picture is ugly. I don't even want to think about a baler with a chopper mechanism.

Then there was a guy, well trained by the contractor in all aspects of machine operation and maintenance and the worker himself is conscious of the danger of forage harvesters. The knife drum had become clogged with grass and mud and needed to be cleaned out.

The machine was shut down and the majority of the blockage was cleared from the knife drum.

However, this usually takes a couple of attempts, so the harvester was restarted to crank up the cutting drum and move the remaining material to where it could be removed and the machine was again shut down.

Unfortunately, the worker was cleaning the mud and grass out while the knife drum still slowing down. On the fourth dive in, he lost a finger.

This reinforces the need to have safe systems of work, ensuring for example that a machine is shut down when clearing blockages or when making adjustments and that when restarting all workers are in clear of the machine and in full view of the operator.

How often have we heard of bales of silage or hay starting to slowly roll down a hill and people have jumped off a tractor to try to stop it. I won't even mention how well the handbrake has been applied and whether it can hold the tractor and the baler rocking back and forth, if still in baling action, on a slope.

Now they've got to get in front of, or to the leading edge, of the rolling bale to stop it or at least turn it across the slope. Who can lift 400 to 600 kilograms? There's little hope of stopping it when moving and trying to use a vehicle can cause its own dangerous situation.

Think of these weights in the shape of round or square bales on front forks when stacking or unloading from several bales height and they come down on the operator for a range of reasons, who is sitting in a flimsy cabin or inadequate ROPS frame. If there is a risk of falling bales, the cabin of the tractor, loader or telehandler should have a built-in FOPS (Falling Object Protective Structure)

What about disasters waiting to happen when rolling stacks with more than one compacting tractor where a proper safe method of working has not been established? What about any equipment operation at night where lights can momentarily blind someone at a critical moment?

What about a rear wheel dropping off the side of a stack or over a concrete bunker wall at night due to darkness or fatigue? A solid rail on the wall will avoid this (see Figure 1).

What about the chaser cart running into the side of the forager or up the rear of the cart and tractor in front because the driver was texting or because their favourite music was playing?

The list is endless and frightening.

Everyone should think about all their own experiences and the stories they have heard that expand the above list enormously. If I have got the attention and action to prevent only one serious injury this season, this article was well worth writing.

All of this highlights the need to ensure farmers plan activities for the upcoming harvest, review what must be done before, during and after with workers and contractors.

This will include how things went last season, such as any near misses and injuries. Ensure equipment is serviced, guards are in place, warning devices are working, spares are ordered, this may need to include spare PTO shaft covers and shear pins.

New and existing workers may need to be upskilled on existing or new equipment. Learn from mistakes and review how work is done to ensure tasks are undertaken safely.

Each season will throw up new challenges so ensure workers and contractors are aware of hazards that may be specific to each farm and each paddock.

An induction to the farm and supplying a farm map highlighting the safety rules and hazards on the farm will help achieve this

When an operator thinks everything is going well and hunky dory, they've taken their eye off safety. Safe harvest, guys. D

*Senior dairy extension officer, Agriculture Victoria, Victoria

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