FCI issues Covid-19 and safety guidance for silage 2020

The Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) has produced advice and guidance for safety – especially in light of Covid-19 – during the 2020 silage season.

The guidelines are aimed at highlighting how contractors and farmers “can work together during the Covid-19 restrictions”.

“The aim is to keep everyone on the farm healthy and safe during the 2020 silage season,” the FCI said.

The FCI is advising contractors to make sure that any additional Covid-19 risks from their work that could affect the farmer, and their operators while on the farm, are reasonably managed.

Child safety is of particular concern.

“Most children are off school due to the Covid-19 restrictions and the arrival of the silage contractor can provide some excitement for them, in what can be an otherwise boring time,” said FCI national chairperson Richard White.

“We are urging all farm families to pay particular attention to child safety on farms over the coming weeks. We are urging farm families not to allow children into silage fields when the harvesting is taking place, from the time of mowing on-wards,” White added.

We are appealing to them to keep children at a safe distance away from the silage pit as trailers unload and the process of building the silage clamp begins. The risks are simply too great.

In terms of what farmers can do regarding contractor safety, the FCI said they should ensure that any risks from farm work are reasonably managed (“eliminated or minimised”) to protect the health and safety of contractors and their operators, while risks from low-hanging overhead wires should be made known to the contractor.

“The FCI believes that contractors and farmers must work together to meet their overlapping duties every time a contractor comes onto a farm,” the association said, suggesting that a phone conversation between contractor and farmer before work starts would be helpful to “establish clear roles, responsibilities and actions in order to prevent any gaps in managing health and safety risks”.

The FCI’s guidelines for contractors are summed up as follows:

  • Disinfect the interior tractor cab and door handles at the start and end of each day;
  • One driver, one machine – if you change drivers, disinfect the cab and controls thoroughly;
  • Stick to social isolation and do not allow others, especially children, into the tractor cab;
  • Do not enter a customer’s home for food – you must adhere to social distancing rules so preferably eat outside on patio/yard tables;
  • Provide a box of disposable plastic gloves in each tractor cab and replace each week;
  • No shaking hands – it is possible to give the instructions over the phone;
  • Maintain a minimum of 2m social distance;
  • Cough into your elbow;
  • If you have Covid-19 symptoms, call the Health Service Executive (HSE) Live at: 1850-24-1850.

The FCI also raised concerns about filling silage pits or clamps to excessive or possibly dangerous heights. Contractors and farmers are being asked to plan and agree safe operating procedures, especially with regard to silage pit / clamp filling heights, before silage harvesting commences.

The FCI also highlights the following points for pit/clamp safety:

  • As a general rule, the finished silage pit/camp should slope at no more than 45° to the retaining walls. Loader operators must ensure the stability of the rolling equipment to prevent loss of control or overturns;
  • The width across the top of the finished silage pit should be a minimum of three times the width of the loader, including dual wheels;
  • Where silage pits/clamps are full to a safe level and where more grass is required to be harvested, the option of baled silage must be considered;
  • Silage pits/clamps should not be constructed underneath or near ESB power lines;
  • The silage storage capacity on the farm should be assessed jointly by the contractor and the farmer to ensure the matching of facilities to existing and future stocking levels.

“We know it is a difficult balance between work, health and safety and your critical work challenges – often determined by weather and long draws – as a farm contractor during silage harvesting,” said White.

He concluded: “At FCI, we advocate a reasonable approach in an effort to get the best outcome for contractors, their skilled people, and thousands of Irish farmers and their families that rely on skilled and experienced contractors to provide their valuable and cost-effective machinery services each year.”