Silage safety reminder for farmers and Contractors

Date published: 04 May 2020

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is reminding farmers and contractors to take extra care during the silage season.

The silage season can be very demanding as there is always pressure to complete the job as quickly as possible. It is therefore extremely important to plan the work accordingly in order to minimise any risks that could potentially occur during this time and in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, farmers and contractors must also ensure they and their employees follow the Government guidelines in relation to social distancing and hand washing. 

Working with silage can be a particularly dangerous time mainly because high-powered machinery is being operated at speed. Tractors are drawing large amounts of silage from the fields back to the farmyard which can result in small country roads being unexpectedly busy, this in turn will have an impact on the people using these roads from commuters who travel the road regularly to get to and from work to people who live in the locality and use the roads for exercise. During the COVID-19 pandemic farmers and contractors must be aware that during this time there may be even more pedestrians and cyclists using country roads for exercise purposes.

There are other factors which increase the chance of an incident occurring. These include, fatigue due to long working hours, poor weather and difficult ground conditions, inexperienced operators and using mobile phones when driving. However, it is up to the farmer or the contractor to manage these risks appropriately in order to prevent incidents occurring.

Children and young people 

No child under the age of 13 should ever be carried in the cab of any machine involved in making silage. Contractors must not allow children to ride in tractor cabs or the cabs of self-propelled harvesters.

There are certain restrictions on what size, width and weights of tractors certain age groups can operate.

For example, a 16 year old can only operate tractors less than 2.45m wide and tow trailers less than 2.45m wide with 2 wheels or 4 wheels close coupled (close together).

For more information on this please visit the following link: 

Young children should not be allowed to play around the farmyard or fields when silage is being made. There should be a safe and secure play area available for young children to play in and younger children must always be supervised by a competent adult at all times.

It is good practice for both adults and children to wear bright or reflective high visibility clothing during silage season as contractors may be working at times when visibility will be minimised. Studies have shown that a person wearing reflective or high visibility clothing will be seen 3 seconds quicker by a person driving a vehicle.

Machinery and vehicle safety 

All tractors and any other equipment being used at silage time needs to be properly maintained and kept in good condition. Breakdowns, due to poor maintenance can lead to delays, adding extra cost and more pressure to an already busy schedule.

Only competent drivers should be allowed to operate machinery during the silage season and the carrying of passengers should be avoided. Employers must also make sure they have undertaken a specific risk assessment for any young persons under the age of 18 who are working for them, which takes into consideration their experience, maturity and their awareness of risks.

All guards must be in place on all equipment and in particular PTO shafts must be properly guarded.

If blockages need to be cleared by hand this must only be carried out when the PTO drive has been switched off and sufficient time has been allowed for the machine to stop completely. The contractor/supervisor or manager on site should be notified of any blockages by the driver and should offer assistance if required as many drivers are only competent in driving the machinery and not maintaining it.

It is essential to remove keys from tractors during maintenance operations.

Approved safety cabs or roll bars must be fitted on all tractors, these must be fitted in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines and also by a competent person.

Take care when driving on the public road and watch out for other road users especially when entering or leaving fields or yards. For more information on driving agricultural vehicles safely on public roads please visit the following link: 

Keep all lights and indicators in working order and ensure all mirrors and windows are cleaned to ensure good visibility for the driver.

Silo safety 

Silos must never be overfilled as this greatly increases the chance of a tractor or loading shovel overturning when filling or rolling a silo. 

Great care should be taken if anyone has to go under a silage cover to retrieve a tyre when the silo cover is being put in place. No person should go underneath a silage cover once the cover has been fixed in place. The fermenting grass uses up the oxygen in the air under the cover very quickly and at the same time the level of harmful gases increases rapidly. These gases include carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Anyone going under the cover when the covers have been fixed in place risks death due to asphyxiation. Always try to have another person with you when fixing the silo cover in place.

On open silos, with earth embankments, the sides and ends of the silage should be sloped off at a safe angle (less than 45 degrees). On other silos where machines and their drivers can drop 600mm (2 feet) or more, strong front end barriers and guard rails are required.

Silos with walls should never be filled above the top of the wall. If overfilled the guard rail will no longer be effective and will increase the risk of a machine overturning.

Excessive filling will overload walls and increase the risk to the operators of machinery.


Be particularly careful when working near overhead power lines.

If you use a contractor for silage making, inform them of the location of any overhead power lines which you feel may impact on large machinery. This can be done by explaining where live overhead power lines are via a map or a site/field visit. Erect signage, markers or goalposts where necessary, if in doubt contact Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) Networks on 03457 643 643 and follow their guidelines.

Remember, self-propelled forage harvesters need a lot of headroom, as do large trailers when tipped in the yard.

If possible use a banksman to direct vehicle movements in farmyards where there are overhead powerlines near silos or tipping areas or where there are areas of limited visibility.

REMEMBER electricity can arc meaning you need extra clearance for higher cable voltages. If in doubt about the height of overhead power lines and suitable clearance distances consult with NIE Networks.

To find out more about farm safety please call the HSENI helpline on: 0800 0320 121 or visit the farm safety webpage where there is specific guidance published for employing agriculture contractors that farmers may also find useful.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Farm Safety Partnership’s ongoing ‘Stop and Think SAFE’ farm safety campaign focuses on the four main causes of death and injury on our farms – slurry, animals, falls and equipment (SAFE).
  2. The Farm Safety Partnership, which comprises the HSENI, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), NFU Mutual (NFUM), the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU), the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) and the Farm Safety Foundation (FSF), is tasked with assisting Northern Ireland’s farming community to work safely and tackle the problem of work-related fatalities and injuries on farms. 
  3. The Farm Safety Partnership Affiliate Group is made up of the following organisations – ABP Group, Asda, Autoline Insurance Group, Carson McDowell LLP, Dale Farm, Danske Bank; Girlguiding Ulster; Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NI Branch), Lakeland Dairies, Lantra, Livestock and Meat Commission Northern Ireland, Northern Counties Co-Operative Enterprises Ltd, Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland Safety Group, Polaris Safety Training and Rescue, Power NI and Ulster Bank. These organisations support the Farm Safety Partnership by working to raise the profile of farm safety in Northern Ireland. 
  4. The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body, sponsored by the Department for the Economy. 
  5. HSENI is the lead body responsible for the promotion and enforcement of health and safety at work standards in Northern Ireland.
  6. For media enquiries please contact: HSENI Press Office on 028 9024 3249, or email For Out of Office Hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.


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