Ann Fitzgerald: Our ever-expanding silage pits are an accident waiting to happen

Safety guidelines: The silage harvest season sees a big increase in machinery-related injuries and fatalities every year
Safety guidelines: The silage harvest season sees a big increase in machinery-related injuries and fatalities every year
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

The Great Wall of China, mythically billed as the only man-made object visible from space, generally isn't, at least to the unaided eye. It certainly isn't visible from the Moon.

Apparently, this is because, while very substantial, the material from which the wall is made is similar in colour and texture to the surrounding area.

However, lots of man-made things are visible from space, including the Pyramids, cities at night, major bridges and Ireland's precipitous silage pits.

Okay, I'm joking about the escalating silage pits, but they are a serious accident waiting to happen. Action needs to be taken.

The saving grace this year has been that the silage is dry.

The recent mushrooming of silage pits is obviously a reflection of the way the dairy herd has expanded since 2015.

Increased milk output takes precedence over everything, including human safety; other elements of the equation, like infrastructure, have lagged behind.

The situation will probably continue to worsen unless it is addressed.

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Last month, the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) appealed to the Health and Safety Authority to introduce a maximum loading height of six metres for silage pits.

FCI head Michael Moroney said his organisation has received reports from contractors where farmers are "forcing" them to work on silage pits that are over 10m (35ft) high.

To put that in context, the height to the gutter in a standard two-storey house is about 5.7m.

The FCI has requested the HSA to issue a working height directive that limits the height to which a silage pit can be filled to twice the height of the pit's retaining walls.

I'm no expert, but even that sounds risky. What I can't understand is why the excess silage isn't being baled.

In practice, it's very difficult for contractors to tackle this themselves. Because, if the usual guy says the pit isn't suitable, someone else will surely take it on - a younger person trying to establish a foothold or someone willing to take a chance to secure a big job.

What makes it extra tricky is that the danger may not be fully apparent at the outset of the job but rather develops as the pit is being filled.

If people can't see the danger or the need to protect themselves and others, surely they should be made to face up to it?

Often, changing a behaviour is complicated by its long practice, but these pits are a recent phenomenon.

One approach would be to have the FCI guidelines, or something similar, incorporated into farm insurance policies.

As things stand, while every insurer has different terms, farmers, like any employer, have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment.

As the Farming Independent's legal expert Theresa Murphy has previously advised in these pages, farmers should closely review their insurance policy with a broker, to ensure it covers all the risks that you need it to.

This includes a discussion on the type of labour used, to ensure that your policy meets the needs of your farming enterprise and, "most importantly, protects you from potential claims being refused by your insurer."

But, while having adequate insurance is a comfort, far better that it not be needed.

Indo Farming

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