Read the current Progressive Forage digital edition

Safety first, silage second

Madison Anderson for Progressive Forage Published on 13 August 2019

You chop it, truck it, cover it, throw tires on it, sample it, unload it and feed it. It’s normal and day to day. That is, until the mundane becomes the undreamed of. 

“Silage safety cannot be taken lightly. Every year, people are injured or killed in silage accidents,” says Eric Dorr, a silage specialist with CHR Hansen. 

Silage piles contribute a plethora of potential dangers to a farming operation, and it is crucial that farm personnel are made aware of the risks and how to minimize them whenever possible. 

According to Dorr, when working around or with silage piles, everyone on the farm should know about the dangers of falls, avalanches, rollovers, machinery entanglement, gases, complacency and fatigue. 


Silage piles are often high above the ground, and the potential for slipping is great on plastic covering. Employees should exercise extreme caution, especially in wet conditions, when working on top of piles. Fall protection or guard rails should be in place.


Silage piles, regardless of size, are at risk for avalanche. Piles should never be higher than unloading equipment can reach in a safe manner. Employees should be taught to never dig buckets into the bottom of the pile, but rather shave silage off the face of a pile when unloading feed. Also, personnel should never stand closer to the pile than three times its height, and samples should be taken from feed already removed from piles.


Potential for tractor rollovers are a risk associated with silage piles. Piles should never be filled higher than bunker walls, and pile slope ratio should be no greater than 1 to 3. To reduce potential for tipping backward, tractors should be backed up slopes. Further, tractors should have rollover protection structures, and operators should always wear seat belts. 


Presence of trucks and machinery is increased around silage piles, especially during harvest. All nonessential personnel should avoid the vicinity of silage piles during operation to minimize the risk of runover or entanglement in machinery and equipment. Operators should exercise increased awareness to presence of people on foot. 


As a result of the ensiling process, gasses are produced and released. Nitrogen dioxide, a product of nitric oxide interacting with oxygen, is toxic and can result in sudden death when inhaled. If a cloud or shimmer is visible, do not proceed near the pile. Additionally, if a burning sensation is felt in the nose, throat or chest, vacate the area as soon as possible, and seek medical attention. Personnel should wear respiratory protection whenever possible. 


Working around silage can become monotonous. Employees who regularly work around piles must not let routine cloud their judgment or decrease their awareness. Workers should always stay aware of surroundings, work in well-lit areas and never operate machinery when distracted. 


Workers who experience exhaustion, dehydration or hunger are more likely to become complacent or injured. It is important that personnel take scheduled breaks, stay hydrated and eat to keep up energy, particularly on hot, long days. Workers who are energized and hydrated are more likely to make sound decisions and comply to rules and safety guidelines.

“Always remember that every accident can be prevented, and the continual goal should be to return everyone home safely at the end of the day,” Dorr says.

In order to minimize silage-related accidents, safety training and protocols should be in place, and employees should be regularly taught and reminded of the dangers of working around silage piles. 

Day to day can become disaster quickly. Employees can fall from great heights, be crushed under falling silage, roll tractors, become entangled in machinery, suffocate on toxic gases, and become complacent and fatigued when working around silage piles. But with good awareness and safety procedures in place, these undreamed of situations can stay just that, a dream.  end mark

For more information, visit the Keith Bolsen Silage Safety Foundation website

Madison Anderson is a 2019 Progressive Forage intern.

PHOTO: Silage harvest and packing requires a lot of labor and equipment; make sure your team is safe with all the equipment running back and forth. Photo by Fredric Ridenour.