Feedyard silage-related tragedy doesn’t discriminate: it can happen to employers, owners, or bystanders, resulting in serious injury or death.
Keith Bolsen, Professor Emeritus, Kansas State University, believes this quote he heard at a safety conference: The feedyard industry has nothing to lose by practicing safety but it has everything to lose by not practicing it.
“The insurance representative who shared this quote went on to explain that every single production ag fatality he had ever investigated could have been prevented,” Bolsen says. “No one should die when they’re working at ag-related tasks. To make that a reality in feedyards, every operation needs a written safety procedure that is part of the facility’s standard operation procedure and is reviewed daily. Remind people every day, because we get busy, distracted and we tend to take shortcuts and risks.”
Bolsen’s definition of safety is: the control of recognized hazards to reach an acceptable level of risk. Common risk factors when feeding silage are:
- Truck or tractor roll-overs
- Run-over by machinery or equipment
- Entanglement in machinery or equipment
- Fall from a height
- Burial in a silage avalanche
- Overcome by silo gas (NO2 and CO2)
Some key silage safety practices in feedyards and around silage bunkers and piles in general include:
- Never work alone in the silo/bunker.
- Never undercut the feed-out-face.
- Never park a feed truck too close to the silage face (and always back it in).
- Use a silage rake.
Fatigue, whether it’s due to lack of sleep, illness, etc. affects everyone at some time. The practice of taking daily breaks, reviewing safety practices, and enforcing safety practices when working around silage can help fatigued employees maintain awareness of the risk associated with their silage tasks. Daily review and consistent support for working safely can help avoid an attitude of complacency or distraction that leads to a tragedy.
“Even the best feedyard employee can become frustrated with malfunctioning equipment, poor weather conditions and other challenges,” Bolsen says. “Those scenarios can tempt workers to take a hazardous shortcut or misjudge their circumstances, causing them to take a risky action.”
Tractor rollovers are quite common around silage bunkers. For that reason, it’s important for silage workers to use tractors fitted with Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) and to always use the tractor seat belt. Other ways to help prevent tractor rollovers include not filling a bunker silo higher than the top of the bunker wall.
In October 2014, when the dump-bed truck Alfonso Miranda was driving tipped over in a silage pit at Great Plains Feedyard in Hereford, TX, he lost his life. In September 2015, 62-year-old Barrie Wyland of Williamsburg, PA, was killed when a tractor he was operating while packing silage in a bunker silo rolled over on top of him.
Truckers working with silage should dump the truck bed only when the truck is on a firm surface and never back the truck onto the forage ramp of a bunker or pile to unload.
“They should also keep in mind that trucks are less stable as the bed is raised,” Bolsen says.
When a silage pile is built, a minimum slope of 1 to 3 should be set up on the sides and ends of the pile. The only time extra “riders” are appropriate in a tractor or truck are when the rider is in training.
Run-over accidents can be reduced when all employees wear high-visibility safety vests at all times. Bystanders, especially children, should never be allowed near moving harvest and transport equipment either in a field or around bunker silos and silage piles during filling or feeding. Rear view mirrors should be adjusted to accommodate each driver and every truck and tractor should be equipped with a back-up warning alarm.
“While they’re waiting to unload, operators should stay in their truck or tractor,” Bolsen says. “If someone must leave their vehicle, they should radio the other operators about their intention. People on the ground should never walk in front of or behind any truck or tractor that is stopped without first making eye contact with the operator.”
Visibility for operators of large machines can be increased by using reverse alarm devices or a remote video camera that helps warn people that the equipment will be operated in a reverse direction.
Additional safety practices to prevent machinery run-overs include:
- All forage harvester, truck, and pack tractor operators should be mature, competent, experienced and well-trained for their task.
- Equipment operators should always use seat belts and never take an unnecessary risk.
- Employees should never send or receive text messages while operating equipment.
To help reduce the risk of falls from silage bunker or piles include installing standard guardrails on all above-ground level bunker silo walls. Use caution in removing plastic or other items from the top of the silage pile.
“Never wear slick surface shoes and don’t stand closer to the top edge of the feed-out face than the height of the silage,” Bolsen says.
Never “pitch” or discard surface spoiled silage while standing on top of the silage pile. It’s a dangerous practice at any time, and especially while standing on the top of an over-filled bunker or pile.
Around any silage pile or bunker, there should be zero tolerance for “horseplay” when working on the top of a bunker or pile.
“Victims of silage-related accidents don’t get a ‘do over,’” Bolsen says. “Silage contractor Glen Jantzen (Plymouth, NE) lost his son and Glen’s grandson lost his father in a silage harvest accident. In a split second their lives changed forever. Glen says that if a feedyard’s silage program isn’t safe, ‘then nothing else about it really matters at the end of the day. Accidents change lives and families forever. Nothing will ever be the same again.’”
Bolsen notes that the most important daily feedyard goal is to send employees home safe to their families at the end of every day.
“I’ve been helping one feedyard cowboy learn about the dangers of over-filled silos and the many silage-related hazards,” Bolsen says. “For more than 25 years this cowboy ignored the activities taking place around silage bunkers. But not anymore!”