Feeding cattle has become a mechanised process on many farms and with that come significant hazards and risks.
The risks may be mechanical or they may relate to animal risks but, in either case, they can be fatal.
Weather conditions dictate that the risks will be higher during the animal feeding period; ground conditions will be wet and possibly frosty as the winter progresses so that slips and falls can be as dangerous as working with elaborate machinery.
The aim should be to plan the animal feeding process for the winter season so as to minimise the risks of an accident. You need to assess the hazards in and around your farmyard.
Then, you need to do something about them now in advance of the weather disimproving, days getting shorter and urgency getting the work done becoming more pressing.
Take some time to look at the machines that you will use. Are they fit for purpose in a safety respect. Often, a small investment in safety related repairs is all that is needed.
Replacing PTO shaft covers is the simplest and most obvious improvement on many farms for no more than €100.
Look more closely at your overall working environment to assess any changes that can be made to keep you and your animals safe. Assess the condition of the animal pens to ensure that they are safe enough to cope with the animals you will be feeding this winter.
Handling round bales
Moving bales around the farm is an area that requires attention. This will be more important this year as many bales will be wet and heavier than in the past.
You should use properly designed, constructed and maintained bale handling equipment and transport bales on trailers or vehicles that allow the bales to be safely secured to them.
You need to check that trailer axles and tyres are strong enough to cope with the maximum loads imposed on them and that they are fitted with proper brakes.
When loading or moving bales around the farm, you need to take into account the weight of any load and handling equipment attached.
A telescopic handler lifting three big silage bales may be carrying a load of nearly two tonnes or a lorry type flat trailer carrying 36 big bales may be carrying a load of more than 20 tonnes.
If using bale spikes to move bales, it is better to use a handler with two or more spikes to ensure that the bale is held securely.
This will reduce the risk of a bale 'spinning' on the spike or coming loose. Longer spikes are safer for ensuring the stability of a load but bales must be fixed securely; otherwise, the weight of the bales on the end of the spikes may cause the spikes to snap.
Make sure that spikes do not protrude so far through the bales that they are a danger to people.
Remove, fold back or cover spikes before travelling on the public road and when they are not required, so that they are not a danger to people and other road users.
There are always several crushing accidents where tractors and loader move after the driver has left the cab. It is essential to follow a safe stop procedure before dismounting from a tractor or mobile machine.
There have been a number of fatal accidents reported where people did not follow safe stop and were impaled by a bale spike or crushed by a machine during the winter feeding period.
Remember, the safe stop procedure as follows:
Moving bales by tractor
The centre of gravity is important when handling big bales, especially with a front-end tractor loader. Keep the load as low as possible -- a top-heavy load could lead to a backward or side overturn.
Use controls smoothly, avoiding jerky movements. Do not travel too fast. Make sure there is adequate ballast on the front and rear to counterbalance the load. Insufficient ballast can make steering and braking difficult and could be dangerous in the field and on the road.
Anthony Morahan of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) told the Irish Farmers Journal that several serious accidents with diet feeders were recorded in recent years, including one farmer who had his arm amputated as a result of such an accident. He said that there was also a fatal accident in 2009, where a young farmer fell into a diet feeder.
Anthony said: "Diet feeders have several safety features built in at the design stage. The safe operation of these machines is the responsibility of the operator." His advice is as follows:
Ensure that the PTO shaft is correctly guarded at all times.
Always disconnect the PTO and hydraulics before carrying out maintenance work.
Never remove the chain guards or attempt to access the mixing chamber when the machine is running.
Do not allow any passengers on the machine.
Good maintenance is essential. Regularly check all chains, sprockets, bearings and other moving parts.
Ensure that all the guards are fitted securely before operating the machine.
When driving with the diet feeder, adhere to speed limits.
Avoid sharp turns and look out for blind spots.
Always park the diet feeder on level ground and engage the tractor hand brake.
Before storing the diet feeder, at the end of the season, wash out the machine and grease all the lubrication points.