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Reports of silage pits being excessively filled to dangerous height

Both the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors (FCI) and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) have expressed their concerns about reports of silage pits being excessively filled to a dangerous height.

They say that such activity puts vehicle operators and others working at the pit at risk of serious injury.


To prevent such risks and raise awareness around the risks posed by excessive filling of silage pits, the FCI have published a factsheet that they have asked their members to adhere to in the interest of safety.

The guidelines set out are as follows:

  • Contractors and their farming customers should plan and agree on safe operating procedures, especially with regard to silage pit filling heights, specific to the farm they are working on, before silage harvesting commences.;
  • As a general rule, to ensure vehicle operator safety and prevent the collapse of retaining walls, the height of the silage being rolled in the pit should never exceed twice the height of the retaining walls;
  • Furthermore, the finished silage pit should slope at no more than 45° to the retaining walls. Machine operators must ensure the stability of the rolling equipment to prevent loss of control or overturns;
  • As a rule of thumb, the width across the top of the finished silage pit should be a minimum of three times the width of the loader, including dual wheels, if fitted;
  • Where pits are full to a safe level and where more grass is required to be harvested, the contractor needs to inform the farmer that the option of baled silage must be considered;
  • Farmers have a duty under the Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to provide a safe working environment on the farm, including farm buildings and silage pits, for all people who may work on that farm. There is a further duty to ensure that any contractor, hired to work on the farm, provides and/or works in a safe manner.
  • Silage pits should not be constructed underneath or near to ESB Networks power lines. As a guide, the table sets out the usual minimum clearance distances required, however, ESB Networks should be contacted and their advice followed for any structure within 35m of the centre line of an overhead power line.
  • Finally, the silage storage capacity on the farm should be assessed jointly by the contractor and the farmer to ensure the matching of facilities to existing and future stocking levels.

Possible questions to ask a contractor

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The FCI has also provided a list of questions for a contractor to ask the farmer that will ensure clarity between both parties and reduce or eliminate any risks involved in the process of silage making.

The questions are as follows:

Have I:

  • Communicated with the farmer the maximum pit height that I will be working towards?
  • Communicated with the farmer and agreed on an alternative plan if the silage pit is full to a safe capacity?
  • Discussed with the farmer the location of any overhead ESB Networks power lines?
  • Given the farmer the mobile phone number of the lead operator/contractor?
  • Made a back-up plan with the farmer if there’s no phone coverage?
  • Agreed with the farmer that there can be strictly no workers or children allowed access to the silage pit and loading apron, during pit filling?
  • Discussed the following with the farmer:
    • What am I going to be doing?
    • What risks it poses to others? (including the farmer)
    • How I am going to manage and communicate those risks?
    • All gates to the silage pit area left open?
    • Traffic management plan in the yard?
  • Agreed with the farmer on the issues of social distancing, machine hygiene & sharing?
  • Agreed with the farmer on silage pit covering responsibility and procedure so that it can be carried out in a safe manner?

The FCI state that contractors also need to consider letting the farmer know about any fuel, machine or parts deliveries to the farmyard/silage pit areas that may create additional risks to other persons (including the farmer) on farm.

Concluding, the Association issued the following message: “We want to thank our silage pit machine drivers for their unique skills, understanding and trust. We must all work together to protect ourselves, our teams, our customers and our business and the business of Irish farming.”

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