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Bales can kill with lethal force

Figures from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) show falling bales account for about 5% of farm workplace deaths.

There are many safety issues around working with bales. Francis Bligh, and John McNamara, Health and Safety Specialists have some advice.

Fatal accidents involving work with bales

Over the summer months farmers and contractors will be very busy making, transporting, and stacking bales of silage, hay and straw.

Bales are a vital method of conserving winter feed and providing, bedding but it is also important to remember that these activities have many safety risks.

Data from the Health and Safety Authority (HAS) show falling bales account for about 5% of farm workplace deaths.

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Being crushed by falling bales or rolled over by a moving round bale, being crushed or trapped by tractors or farm machinery which were involved in transporting bales are some of the main dangers.

Transporting bales from the field

When removing bales from the field, it is necessary to be careful and have this job done by a skilled driver in order to avoid accidents.

The job must be properly planned to ensure machinery is appropriate and safe, drivers are aware off ground conditions including slopes and the presence of overhead power lines.

Drivers should travel at an appropriate safe speed and be considerate of other road users.

Transporting bales using trailers

Trailers used to transport bales must not be overloaded. Bales should not hang over the edges of the trailer.

Secure the load with suitable straps using double straps at the rear of the load.

Avoid high speeds and take account of the effects of the weight of the load on the effectiveness of the brakes.

Securing the load

Road Safety Authority (RSA) have issued the following guidance on securing loads:

Unsecured or inadequately secured loads pose a safety risk and could cause injury and even death. Unsecured or inadequately secured loads can shift when a vehicle is in motion and may cause:

  • Loss of control of vehicle;
  • Objects to fall on or hit people;
  • Road obstruction or collision where a driver is required to swerve; to avoid fallen items;
  • Spillages that may cause vehicles to lose control.

Failure to secure loads properly may also result in financial losses due to damaged goods and vehicles, lost working time, clean-up costs and legal costs.

Loads must be secured even if the vehicle is only travelling a short distance or at low speeds.

Tractors vehicles and machinery safety

Overloading or inappropriate loading will increase instability and the risk of an accident.

Equipment must be well maintained, and drivers must be aware of RSA guidance on vehicle weight, braking, lighting and height limits.

When moving bales with a tractor and loader or a telehandler to keep the load as low as possible, avoid jerky movements and travel carefully. You may need to use a counterbalance to improve stability.

All tractors and front-end loaders must have approved cabs to provide falling objects protection and rollover protection.


Drivers must ensure that they have a clear view ahead. Inappropriate use of front loaders can dramatically reduce visibility.

It is recommended to have two or more spikes in a bale to prevent rotation or loosening of the bale during transport.

When travelling on the road without a bale the bale spikes should be removed, covered or folded back so as not to pose a risk to road users.


If you need to dismount from the tractor or loading shovel to carry out another task (for example, open a gate or fit a strap), ensure the hand brake is applied and is working properly.

In addition, put the transmission in brake position, lower implement if attached, switch off the engine and remove the key

Safe stacking location

Department of Agriculture rules under cross-compliance rules require that where silage bales are not placed on concrete and have effluent collected, they must be 20m away from the closest watercourse.

From a safety point of view, the surface on which to store the bales should be level, smooth and where possible be a hard surface as soft or uneven ground increases the risk of machinery incidents.

Stacks should be positioned well away from overhead power lines.

Bale stack

The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) state the maximum height of the stack of silage bales should be 3 bales high. Where the bales are not very dense the maximum height of two bales is advised.

Where stacking is necessary:

  • stack on curved sides.
  • build in a pyramid style and the bales at the bottom should be prevented from moving using supports.

Stacking of round bales on their ends is not recommended as bales may lean sideways if they settle during storage. Bales can be placed on their ends in a single layer on the ground provided the ground is level.

Square bales

Square bales should be stacked using an interlocking pattern to tie-in the bales with the row underneath. The maximum height of a stack of square bales should be less than one-and-a-half times the width of the base.

Where manual lifting is necessary for small bales take great care when working on bale stacks and make sure correct manual handling techniques are used.

Removing bales from a stack requires great care to avoid injury.  Never ask contractors to stack bales more than one bale high if you do not have access to suitable bale handling equipment to remove these bales for feeding.

Any other method (removing from the base) has a huge risk involved.

Remove the bales from the upper row first. Removing bales from the bottom or middle of the stack can lead to dislodgement and a risk of being injured by a falling bale.

Child safety and bales

Children should never be allowed to play on bales. Remove ladders to prevent children gaining access.

Children should not be allowed in the farmyard or fields when bales are being moved, handled or transported.


Before working with bales, it is important that farmers think through all aspects of the process for their particular circumstances, assesses the risks and takes appropriate precautions to avoid mishaps and accidents.

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