PRIMGHAR, Iowa — We’ve just completed our webinar series on making quality corn silage and how to price corn silage. If you missed either program, they are available on the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Dairy Team website (https://www.extension.iastate.edu/dairyteam/webinars). The conversations made me think about the pile safety program that the late Keith Bolsen, professor emeritus for Kansas State University, gave for the I-29 Moo University Winter Workshops a few years ago. Dr. Bolsen shared some great points with attendees on how to stay safe around silage.
Because of the steep nature of the piles or the sheer walls around bunkers, extra precaution is needed when operating tractors while packing the silage pile. To help with the steep nature of silage piles, the recommendation is to utilize a 1 to 3 slope on ends and sides of drive over piles. Tractors should also be backed up piles to help tractors from flipping over backwards on steep slopes. It is suggested to put lighting above the walls on silage bunkers to provide an indication for the location of the edge of the wall. Another issue is the lack of employees utilizing the safety belt when operating the tractor which causes them to be thrown from the tractor potentially being crushed in a roll-over.
Entanglement in silage making equipment unfortunately happens too often. Due to the number of moving parts including blades, knives, belts, chains, gears, and PTO shafts it is extremely important to make sure all shields and safety guards are kept in place while operating equipment. This equipment is extremely large, often chopping twelve plus rows of corn at a time; it is crucial to know where all employees are before starting the equipment and moving forward. Absolutely, do not let children play around this equipment.
Falls are another source of injury or death around silage piles. They can occur when climbing up the silo, falling off the side of the bunker or face of a pile. Make sure all guard rails are properly installed on silo ladders and chutes are in good repair prior to accessing them. Workers need to utilize good practices when there is slippery conditions or wet weather. Care should be taken when removing tires and tarps covering the pile, making sure not to get too close to the edge and fall off.
Silage pile avalanches are also another source of danger. People should never stand closer than three times the height of the feeding face of the pile to help eliminate potential entrapment in a silage avalanche. To help minimize this risk, silage piles should never be constructed higher than the defacing or unloading feeding equipment can reach the top of the pile. This prevents undercutting which creates a cornice on the top of the silage pile that can potentially collapse entrapping people in the silage. Weak spots can occur between old crop and new crop silage if a pile is “added on to” causing silage to release and break away. Thus, extra caution should be used in these areas of piles. When accessing the pile always start at the top working your way down the face of the pile. Never dig into the pile with the loader from the bottom and work up. Utilizing a tractor or equipment that has a R.O.P.S. installed will also provide extra protection if an avalanche occurs and the cab is entrapped in silage.
When first accessing silos, bunkers and piles be aware of toxic gases that are produced during the fermentation process. Silos typically have the highest risk of these gases being concentrated although they can occur in all types of silage fermentation. These gases include nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). These gases are toxic and often fatal when inhaled. Typically, the greatest concentration of these gases occurs during the fermentation process in the first three weeks after completion of filling the silo.
In addition, sometimes there may be molds present. Some molds produce toxins such as aflatoxin, mycotoxin, endotoxin, etc., which can trigger asthma attacks or allergic reactions. Precautions such as dust masks or respirators are recommended also when handling moldy silage, anytime throughout the feed handling process.
Training all workers on proper safety protocols for handling and accessing silage is essential to minimize the risk of accidents. Supplying safety equipment such as reflective vests, eye protection and breathing equipment when needed is equally important. Lead by example and do not be afraid to correct improper worker performance, if they are not following established safety protocols, you may save a life!
— Fred Hall, Dairy Specialist
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
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