23 March 2018
HSE reports indicate at least 27 deaths related to baling and bale handling since 2000, including 18 caused by falling bales. Many more have been injured, but the total number is unknown. The baling season may soon be over but the need to be aware of the risks does not stop once the bales are collected from the field.
Incidents tend to occur during baling and transport, stacking and handling, but the simple presence of bales stacked in fields is not without its dangers: round bales can roll down slopes causing deaths and passersby have been known to climb on them, causing toppling. Contact with overhead power lines due to stacks being under or too close to power lines or when bales are being moved is not uncommon. Incidents involving falling bales occur regularly when bales are being moved.
The dangers of unsafe storage and de-stacking were highlighted earlier in the year by two HSE prosecutions:
- A pig producer was fined £16,000 and £4,500 costs after a part-time worker suffered multiple fractures to his spine and ribs. Two large straw bales toppled and bounced down the arm of the loader he was using to remove bales from an excessively high stack. The loader did not have its protective structure fitted.
- A horse breeder was prosecuted for a similar accident in which a 20-year-old veterinary student suffered severe injuries when she was struck by four large straw bales weighing more than 1.2 tonnes that toppled from a 5.5m stack. The partner who ran the stud farm was fined £10,000 with £10,000 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of regulation 10(4) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
Stacking bales is an everyday activity at many thousands of farms across the UK, so the potential for serious incidents is high.
The risks can be reduced by taking the precautions in HSE’s leaflet; Safe Working with Bales in Agriculture (INDG 125).