Farmers' efforts to produce record silage crops this spring could put their safety at risk.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual has highlighted how soaring fertiliser and animal feed prices will make home-grown silage more important than ever to feed livestock next winter – and further increase the pressure on farmers to maximise each cut, and possibly let safety standards slip in the rush.

Managing director of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services, Andy Manson, said: “This year top-quality silage crops will be more valuable than ever before as input costs go through the roof – but it’s vital that safe working is foremost in everyone’s minds.

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“Accidents tend to happen when people work too long, push machinery too hard or take risks to get crops in before the weather turns. Making sure machinery is fit for the job makes harvesting go smoothly and cuts the risk of accidents. It’s particularly important to check the tyres, brakes and couplings of silage trailers, which may not have been used for months before suddenly getting pressed into action," he said.

The Mutual proposes the following pre silage harvest safety checklist –

  • Put in place a system for keeping in contact with lone workers;
  • Make sure drivers are aware of the locations and heights of overhead power lines and check that machinery will safely pass under wires and restrictions;
  • Make sure new staff are properly inducted and trained for the work you give them – in particular the dangers of working around farm machinery;
  • Put in place measures to ensure children are kept away from working areas;
  • Ensure trailers are road legal with fully maintained and working brakes, lights, indicators and flashing beacons.

While working in the fields, farmers should –

  • Regularly check moving parts of mowers, tedders, forage harvesters and balers, including guards and PTO shafts for wear or damage;
  • Carry out all recommended maintenance on schedule;
  • Take special care to check for following vehicles before turning right into fields or yards as this is a common cause of accidents;
  • Switch off engines and ensure parts have stopped before clearing blockages or carrying out maintenance – remove keys as well to prevent accidental starting;
  • Keep a mobile on you at all times – not left in a tractor or pick-up cab;
  • Take regular breaks to eat, drink and rest to stave off tiredness.

While working on silage clamps, farmers should –

  • Never overfill a silage clamp as this increases the risk of vehicles overturning when rolling or filling;
  • For indoor clamps, keep away for the first 72 hours as this is when dangerous nitrogen dioxide gas can form in large quantities;
  • If possible, use a hook or a pole to keep away from the edge of the face when unsheeting or removing tyres.