Safety alert issued after worker struck by hay bale

Wednesday, 22 June, 2022

Safety alert issued after worker struck by hay bale

In May 2022, a contracted truck driver was seriously injured when one of the hay bales he was delivering fell on him. An investigation conducted by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland revealed that a worker employed by the property owner was operating a telehandler to unload the hay bales on the opposite side of the truck to where the driver was standing. For reasons not yet established, a bale fell from the truck, crushing the driver, who suffered serious spinal injuries.

Working with hay bales is common in the agricultural industry and presents serious health and safety risks. Bales come in various shapes and sizes and are made up of grass, lucerne, straw, stubble or other herbaceous plant material that has been compressed, tightly bound or baled together (including wrapped round silage bales). The risks associated with working with hay bales includes falls from bale stacks, falls from vehicles and machinery used to transport or stack bales, being struck by falling or collapsing bales, electrocution from contact with overheard electricity power lines, trips and falls from loose bale strings, contact with bale handling machinery such as bale elevators, fires, exposure to dust, and lifting and carrying bales. A concise risk management process must be completed, with safe systems of work in place before any work with hay bales starts.

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland advises employers and business owners to use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in their place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating risks and employers must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

When loading or unloading hay bales from trucks or trailers, the main risks include falling or collapsing hay bales, stack configuration, bystander safety, electrocution from contact with overhead powerlines and falling from heights. Truck drivers, workers, farmers and family members (including children) are at risk if bales fall or collapse while loading or unloading trucks and trailers. Large round or rectangular bales can weigh up to 800 kilograms. Bales have the potential to fall if they have moved, compressed or collapsed during transit; if they are stacked incorrectly; if they have been loaded with inappropriate lashings, ropes or inadequate securing methods; if workers have not been trained to perform the task safely; and if hay bale equipment has not been properly designed, constructed and maintained.

After assessing the risks, PCBUs must implement control measures to manage those risks associated with the loading and unloading of hay bales. These control measures include separating people from mobile plant using barriers, fences or other similar options. Where possible, workers should not access the loading/receiving area when mobile plant are operating during the load/unload process. PCBUs are advised to create dedicated waiting areas for truck drivers and ensure the driver doesn’t leave the area. PCBUs must also ensure that all exclusion zones and unloading procedures are communicated and followed by workers and contractors.

Other control measures include the use of appropriate mobile plant and equipment designed for the task, such as telehandlers or purpose-designed bale handling attachments like hay bale clamps, grabs and spikes — PCBUs must ensure that the plant and any attachments are used in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications. To manage the risks associated with loading and unloading hay bales, PCBUs should also consider using a self-levelling front-end loader attachment to prevent the hay bale from falling and a backboard to prevent the hay bale from falling backwards onto the operator. PCBUs must also ensure that the placement or removal of tarpaulins does not disturb or dislodge bales.

If there is residual risk, the PCBU must implement administrative controls and consider developing and implementing a safe system of work. This may include safe work procedures for ensuring bales are never strapped or unstrapped while the trailer is still being loaded or unloaded and the implementation of a load and unload sequence to prevent the load becoming unstable. PCBUs must also ensure, where practicable, that bales are of equal size and density prior to stack formation, with lower bales able to provide stability for upper layers — the Load Restraint Guide (published by the National Transport Commission) outlines the performance standards for securing loads on vehicles.

PCBUs must ensure that bales are stacked according to Australian Fodder Industry Association guidelines and the loading or unloading occurs on level ground, to minimise the potential for bale dislodgement or vehicle tip over. People loading or unloading hay bales must be trained, competent and correctly supervised. PCBUs are advised to implement and enforce exclusion zones so no-one places themselves between the load and the truck, lifting equipment or crush locations that may arise during loading or unloading. To further minimise risks to health and safety during loading and unloading hay bales, PCBUs must ensure that no-one is on the opposite side of the truck or trailer and that the load has been inspected prior to unloading to identify any potential movement of materials. PCBUs should also consider using high-visibility or reflective clothing.

Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision and tend to be the least effective in minimising risks. The control measures put in place should be reviewed regularly to ensure they work as planned.

Image credit: © Kostic

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