Silage Season Safety - General Safety Info

Silage Defacer - Involved in New York Death, 2005.
Photo from NIOSH-CDC
It's impossible to cover all critical safety information in a short period of time. Be sure to always seek out OTHER critical information and resources on harvest season and silage/silo related safety.  Also note that feeding and unloading from silo is an activity that happens through much of the year, so these are some potential hazards you can be exposed to year-round…

Dust & Farmer's Lung
  • Silage is often not very dusty, but when it is, it's usually because of poor storage or initial harvest conditions. We are most concerned when dusty silage, haylage, or stored hay that has gotten moldy and has easily released mold "spores" which create dusty conditions.
  • Depending on a person’s health status, mold spores in dust can cause severe health effects. For some people, dust and mold spore exposure can cause an illness referred to as farmer’s lung or one called silo-unloaders syndrome.  Farmer’s lung is especially a risk for people who have had allergies, asthma or other sensitivities.  
    N95 Respirator Infographic from CDC-NIOSH
  • People prone to farmer’s lung should avoid these exposures.  If you’re concerned, check with your family doctor or other health care professional.
  • If you are working around many types of dust on a farm, a tight fitting dust mask can be helpful – We often talk about an approved and certified “N-95” mask. Make sure any mask fits well.  Make sure all workers are in good health before they use a respirator.  Safety and health standards actually require a doctor's "okay" before a person uses a workplace respirator because of the additional stress it places on the lungs and heart.  It's impossible to use a dust mask and get a proper seal if the person who wears it has a beard or other facial hair. We strongly recommend that any respirator be used within the framework of a carefully-designed respiratory protection policy and program.
Machines & Equipment Used for Feeding
  • On bunker silos – feeding can present special hazards – Big equipment is one – like loaders, tractors, trucks.  It can be a busy, confusing and unsafe place.  Employees need thorough training, and visitors and kids must be kept well away from the "feedout" area.
  • Silage 'defacing' equipment is another hazard.  There was a high profile death about 12 years ago.  It involved a young man, 18-years old.  He started his early morning on a modest, family-run dairy farm.  Safety had been emphasized over and over on this operation. 
    Silage Defacer - Involved in New York Death, 2005.
    Photo from NIOSH-CDC
  • It was cold. The man started the tractor and raised the defacer about four-feet off the ground.  We’re not sure why, but he engaged the defacer with the hydraulic lever and climbed off the tractor with everything running.  Nobody knows exactly what happened, but he walked around the right-hand front of the tractor and his jacket got caught on the rotating outer edge of the defacer.  It snagged him badly enough that he began to rotate with the spinning unit.
  • His uncle heard this happening.  He saw the situation. He shut off the tractor. He cut the victim's clothing loose and called for help.  While he waited for the ambulance, he tried to give CPR – By the time the sheriff arrived, the victim was dead.
  • These kinds of seemingly strange things seem to happen on farms someplace around the country almost on a daily basis – and in Wisconsin, we see frequent deaths and serious injury from being wrapped up in machinery.  Do NOT get off a machine with parts moving.  It’s just too risky.
Avalanche & Collapse Hazards
  • Another feedout safety concern is overhangs in bunkers and piles.  Undercut silage ledges can avalanche and trap a person under several thousand pounds of silage. Even a perfectly flat feedout face of a bunker or pile that appears stable can collapse, leaving a person buried underneath.
  • The key point is to stay back from the front face of a bunker or pile at a distance of at least three times the height of the front face to avoid being engulfed by an avalanche  -- So – if you’re looking at a front face that’s 15 or 20 feet high, you need to keep a distance of 45 or 60 feet….
  • When silage "samples" need to being collected, scoop up some silage in a loader, drive the loader away from the avalanche zone, and then take your sample from the bucket.
  • Loaders can be equipped with heavy duty bars or mesh to protect the operator if a pile collapses onto the machine.
  • Again, the farm is a potentially dangerous, industrial workplace – We’ve provided you with only some of the basics.  There’s always more to learn.  Don’t make assumptions.  ALL who work on your operation need this understanding and need the knowledge and tools to do their work safely!   
This post was originally developed to support a series of corn silage harvest-related podcasts that will be posted by colleague Liz Binversie of Brown County, UW-Extension.

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