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Proactive vs. reactive: Safety beyond silage

John Garino for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 August 2016
Tractor in silage

During this busy time of year when we are harvesting and storing new silage, we are often reminded about the dangers of carbon dioxide gas and silage avalanches. As someone who has been working in the industry for more than 35 years, I’ve seen a lot of farm tragedies that could have been prevented, not just around silage, but all areas of the farm.

Unfortunately, farming is one of the riskiest jobs in the U.S., based on the annual number of worker related injuries and deaths. It’s time we start thinking more routinely about safety on our farms, and less seasonally.



I’ve been blessed to work for a company where safety is a key focus, and complete safety means having everyone return safely to loved ones every day. Farms employ more “loved ones” than most businesses. Whether it’s your children or long-term herdsman, their safety means the world to you, so help them stay vigilant by building a safety culture with these core practices.

Be proactive, not reactive

When we work with large equipment, animals, manure lagoons and silage piles on a daily basis, it can be easy to forget how dangerous they are. Oftentimes we refresh employees on safety procedures and protocols after an incident has occurred. By being proactive with safety reminders, we can help employees fight safety complacency and ensure they don’t forget how dangerous some of these areas can be.

Make safety a regular topic at your farm meetings, so you can refresh employees on proper protocols, highlight any areas of increased risk, such as carbon dioxide gas around new silage piles, and also give employees a chance to share any incidents that might have occurred. By discussing minor injuries and close calls with your team, you can look for ways to better prevent them in the future.

Be sure to provide employees with safety gear. While some items (like welding masks) are obvious, some items are not. With the amount of traffic on farms, high-visibility vests can be helpful to ensure workers are easy to spot by drivers, especially those driving large equipment. Being entangled, rolled over, run over or crushed by a large piece of machinery is the leading cause of death and injury on agricultural operations.

Finally, post signs to help remind people of some of the more dangerous hazards and consider setting speed limits, particularly in the high-traffic areas such as around silage piles and commodity bins. This will help set expectations, especially with visitors who might be coming onto your operation for the first time.


Conduct safety audits

Sometimes we don’t recognize something as a danger because we’ve been exposed to it for so long. By bringing in a third party to audit the safety of your operation, you might discover some areas or practices that could be improved. From discovering stray voltage to adjusting the way workers perform tasks, audits by safety experts can help us discover “blind spots” and improve safety before an accident occurs.

Reinforce what’s important

Oftentimes there is more work to be done than light in a day, which can lead employees to rush through jobs. Several studies have shown a correlation between rush requests and tight deadlines, and an increase in workplace injuries. Encourage employees to always take the time to do the job safely. Emphasizing safety over speed will not only help prevent injuries, but also reinforce how much you value them.

By building a safety culture that routinely reviews proper safety procedures and protocols, we can help fight complacency and keep employees vigilant when performing dangerous, but routine, tasks. To help you start putting these core safety practices into place, here are 10 brief tips on silage safety that you can review with employees at your next meeting. I encourage you to post these tips in your office area as a helpful reminder this silage season.

Tips for a safe silage season

  1. Minimize people on foot around areas where silage wagons, trucks or tractors will be passing.
  2. Require workers to wear high-visibility vests to enhance their safety attitude when working, especially at night.
  3. Reduce the risk of rollovers by not exceeding a 3-1 ratio (run-rise) for packing slopes on bunkers and piles.
  4. Always use rollover protection and seat belts.
  5. Be cautious when multiple push and pack tractors are on the silage pile.
  6. Match the silage face height to the silage facer reach to avoid overhangs and avalanches.
  7. When covering or placing tires on silage, always face toward the wall to avoid falling backwards over the edge. Always know where you are on the pile.
  8. Use a harness connected to a safety line or have machinery in place with a safety railing when removing tires or plastic.
  9. Always be careful when walking at the base or top of the silage face.
  10. Identify hazards before collecting samples. If the bunk can’t be sampled safely, think about options that will yield similar information or results.  PD

John Garino is a performance ingredients specialist for Cargill.

PHOTO: There are a lot of opportunities for accidents during silage season. Remind your harvest team regularly of safe practices. Photo by Lynn Jaynes.