by Sally Colby
During baling season, time is at a premium and it’s easy for farmers to skip safety measures. But handling large round bales that weigh 700 to 800 pounds can be a dangerous and potentially deadly task.
Jim Carrabba, agricultural safety specialist with NYCAMH (New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health), has some tips for farmers who are working with large round bales.
Performing an operator’s check of all equipment prior to working with bales may prevent injury or even save a life. “We recommend a 360 degree walk around each machine before each use,” said Carrabba. “Check all the hydraulic hoses to make sure that they are not cracked, broken or worn. Look under the machine for puddles of fluid that would indicate a leak or a broken hose. Look for hydraulic fluid on the machine itself that might indicate a leak.” Carrabba explained an injury called high pressure injection injury, which is the result of a hydraulic hose that has a pinhole leak. “It can inject the fluid right into the person’s body. It’s a dangerous injury.”
Part of the operator’s check should include clearing any material that has accumulated on the tractor, such as bird nest materials, hay and straw chaff or oil. In addition, check engine oil fluid, coolant, lug nuts, cracks in the tires and make sure tires are properly inflated.
Tractors should be equipped with a functional fire extinguisher. Carrabba advises farmers to use a five or 10 pound ABC rated extinguisher, which covers paper/wood, fuel and electrical fires. Keep a charged cell phone or two-way radio in the cab, and let someone know you are out working. “It’s also good to have a first-aid kit,” said Carrabba. “Especially if the operator is away from the farmstead.”
Handling large round bales usually begins in the field, often followed by a trip over a paved road to the barn. In the field, use appropriate speed and reduce gear accordingly. Inconsistencies in the field surface can occur in a short time, so watch for new holes, swales and washes. Use caution when exiting fields to enter a roadway. When on the road, use lights and flashers along with appropriate SMV signage as mandated by your state. For example, New York state law requires that the tractor and all implements behind the tractor (including a large bale carried behind) must have an SMV emblem. If the tractor will have to travel on a busy road part of the time, try to time bale handling for low traffic times.
Many old bank barns are close to the road, which adds an additional level of danger. If there is steady traffic during bale work, place warning cones in the road and consider using a spotter to warn and slow down oncoming traffic. Although unloading on flat ground is ideal, the upper section of many old barns is accessed by a barn hill. Working on slope reduces stability, but a properly ballasted tractor will help. Always keep the load low when moving uphill.
Prior to unloading, chock the tires and make sure that the tractor is properly ballasted (according to manufacturer’s specifications) to balance the load. “If you have to go up a steep hill, it’s best to have the heaviest part of the machine pointed uphill,” said Carrabba. “Once the bale is on the spear, the bucket should be kept low to the ground.” If you must work on the equipment while it’s in the raised position, use appropriate mechanical lockout. Use caution if you exit the tractor to reposition the bale spear and before returning to the seat, walk around the tractor and check for people who might have walked into the area.
Always use a spear or grabber rather than using the bucket alone to move or lift bales. “If you lift the boom all the way up, that bale can roll back on the lift arms and onto the tractor operator,” said Carrabba, noting that while newer equipment includes warning stickers, old equipment may not be marked. If bales are being moved through a gate, make sure that the person opening and closing the gate is not standing beneath the bale to work the gate.
Some farmers use a skid steer to move large bales, and although these machines are quite stable in most circumstances, the operator should follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding load. Carrabba says to make sure that the machine is rated for the weight of the load that will be handled. If in doubt, check the equipment manual or with the dealer to be sure.
If the tractor doesn’t have a cab, it should be equipped with ROPS (rollover protection structure). Carrabba says that most cab tractors have built-in ROPS, but operators should check the safety certification to be sure. “The operator should wear a seatbelt to make the ROPS effective,” said Carrabba, adding that some states have programs to finance ROPS installation on tractors. “In New York, we’ve done over 1,100 tractors in seven years. We know of 13 people who after they retrofitted their tractor, they had an overturn so the ROPS most likely saved their life.”
If the tractor has one seat, there should be just one rider. Runover fatalities or injuries are preventable and are usually the result of an extra rider who falls under a wheel. Keep the work area clear of people unless they are working directly with the tractor operator. Spectators distract the operator and often don’t pay full attention to where the operator is.
Carrabba realizes that farmers don’t always use seatbelts, but he recommend that seatbelts are used, especially while driving on the road and working up and down hills. “It’s a culture change for people to use seatbelts on tractors,” he said. “But there are no known cases of a tractor operator who died in an overturn when they had a rollbar and were wearing a seatbelt.”
Handling large bales safely
by Sally Colby