Maximum height for silage pits needed to prevent accidents, say contractors

Third-cut silage going into a pit at Gurteen College.
Third-cut silage going into a pit at Gurteen College.
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

A maximum height for the loading/construction of silage pits needs to be issued by the Health and Safety Authority, The Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) has urged as dairy farm sizes increase.

This week FCI expressed its concerns to the Health & Safety Authority as well as Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed and Minister for State with responsibility for the Health & Safety Authority Pat Breen on the issue of silage pit safety following concerns from members as silage pit heights continue to grow to dangerous height levels.

FCI has informed the Health & Safety Authority and the respective Ministers that the huge increases in dairy cow herd sizes on many farms, coupled with the heavy grass crops and the fact that there is a 10 to 15pc carry-over of silage in many pits due to the earlier start to the grazing season in 2019, have meant that many farmers are expecting/forcing many farm contractors to put more silage into existing silage pits.

“This week at FCI, we have received a number of reports from contractors where farmers are requesting/forcing them to work on silage pits that are over 10 metre (35ft) high,” said FCI CEO Michael Moroney.

“Our members are concerned about the safety of their drivers working wheeled loaders at these heights. These are heavy machines, often over 15 tonnes in weight, and are now being urged/requested to work at dangerous heights on an unstable surface that is grass silage,” he added.

FCI is urgently requesting that the Health and Safety Authority to issue a warning to all farmers as to their responsibility in this matter. FCI is requesting that the Health and Safety Authority issue a Working Height Directive for silage pits, limiting the height to which a silage pit can be filled or loaded to a maximum height of 6 metres.

Alternatively, FCI requests that the Health and Safety Authority issues a Working Height Directive that limits the height to which a silage pit can be filled or loaded, to twice the height the silage pit retaining walls.

In the meantime, FCI advises all farm contractors to exercise extreme caution in the construction of high pits of silage. FCI advises members to explain to their customers the reasons for limiting the height to which they construct the silage pit to the guidelines above. 

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It added that that an urgent directive coming from the Health and Safety Authority, at this important time, will provide the necessary strength to ensure that action will be transferred down to farms so that farmers will learn to appreciate the dangers that their actions are having in insisting that their contractor’s construct silage pits to unsafe heights. 

The call comes weeks after the publication of the FCA Factsheet Farmers which urged farmers to reasonably manage any risks from farm work, such as filling silage pits, to protect the health and safety of contractors.

The FCI Factsheet provides guidance to explain what both Farmers and Contractors can do to keep each other and their staff, safe during the busy silage making time. The Factsheet highlights the need for better communications as a key method approach to help to reduce accidents around the busy silage harvesting time.

“In the longer term, at FCI we are requesting the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to discontinue the grant aiding of slurry spreading machinery and replace this with a new grant scheme for the expansion/enlargement of silage pits on dairy farms,” said Michael Moroney. “This will put the focus on the need for greater safety awareness at silage harvesting time in Ireland,” he added.

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