MADISON, Wis. – After two near-misses of his own, and learning the stories of other accidents and fatalities that occurred around silage piles, Dr. Keith Bolson, of Kansas State University, has become passionate about silage safety.
    He urged producers and dairy workers to exercise caution during his presentation at the PDPW Business Conference March 13-14 in Madison, Wis.
    “Silage safety is serious business,” Bolson said. “Silage is 365 days a year. Someone on every dairy in Wisconsin fed silage this morning.”
    Farmers in Wisconsin put up over twice as much silage each year as the next closest state, which Bolson said makes silage safety that much more important in America’s Dairyland.
    To help create awareness of safety practices to use near silage, Bolson and his wife Ruthie launched the Dr. Keith Bolson Silage Safety Foundation at the World Dairy Expo. As part of the work of their foundation, they have created a booklet entitled “Silage Safety 101,” available in both English and Spanish versions.
    During that same World Dairy Expo when the Bolsons launched their foundation, a dairy farmer was nearly overcome by silo gas, only 20 miles away from the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. Bolson said the incident drove home the importance of what they want to accomplish with their foundation. The foundation’s goal is for everyone involved in a silage program on farms, dairies, feedlots and other livestock operations to return home to his or her family safely every day.
    “I missed my first silage wake-up call on June 16, 1974,” Bolson said. “I lost fingers in a blower filling silo. But, I didn’t get it. I didn’t talk about silage safety. On Oct. 12, 1992, we were filling a bale bunker to show Kansas beef producers what they were losing in silage shrink by using big round bales as bunker walls. I was … packing along the wall when a bale slipped out. The tractor went to about 60 degrees. If that bale would have gone out another 5 feet, I’d have been involved in a tractor roll-over.”
    According to Bolson, silage-related tragedies do not discriminate. They have no boundaries when it comes to age, race or position on the farm. He cited many instances where people – family members, employees and even simple bystanders of all ages – have been injured or killed during silage harvest and feed-out.
    “Accidents are caused by unsafe behavior or conditions caused by the actions of people,” Bolson said. “No one has ever stepped over a PTO shaft; walked up to a silage feed-out face that you couldn’t reach the top of; ever moved a forage harvester without honking three times, right? We’re not going to create a safety bubble. What we can do is put guidelines in place to significantly reduce the chance of having a serious injury or fatality.”
    Bolson urges all facilities that feed silage to have silage safety protocols that are clear and consistent, explaining the right and wrong methods.
    “Injury-related statistics suggest that employees do not consistently follow the recommended safety guidelines,” Bolson said.
     Silage accidents are typically caused by things such as fatigue, complacency, truck or tractor roll-over, being run over by machinery or equipment, entanglement, fall from heights, buried by silage avalanche and silo gas.
    Forage-harvesting is often fraught with long hours and exhausting work conditions and frequently has added stress from weather conditions. Bolson encourages a large enough harvesting team to safely perform the tasks needed, while allowing for adequate breaks and rest. He cautions that even the best workers can become frustrated with malfunctioning equipment, poor weather conditions or other hazards and make poor judgements that could end tragically.
    Use of rollover protective structures is a must when packing silos. Bolson warns to never fill a bunker silo higher than the top of the wall, helping to eliminate the risk of a straight drop off. He also advocates for the use of sight rails on above-ground bunker walls. Pack tractor operators should form a progressive wedge of forage, providing a minimum slope of 1 to 3 for pushing and packing. Tractors should always be backed up steep slopes to prevent rollbacks.
    Machinery guards and shields should always be kept in place to protect workers from rotating shafts, chain and v-belt drives, gears and pulleys and rotating knives on harvesting equipment, wagons and feeding equipment. Non-working bystanders, especially children, should never be allowed near harvesting, transporting, packing or feeding operations.
    To prevent a fall from heights, standard guardrails should be installed on above-ground bunker silo walls. Care should be taken when removing coverings near the edge of the feed-out face. Bolson cautions workers to never stand closer to the edge of the feed-out face than the height of the silage. He also recommends the use of a safety harness, tethered with a heavy rope or cable.
    Silage avalanches are unpredictable and have no warning signs. It is not uncommon on large dairies for silage piles and bunkers to be 18 to 24 feet high. People should never be allowed to approach the feed-out face, and should never stand closer to the feed-out face than three times the height of the silage. Suffocation is the primary cause of death in a silage avalanche accident, so Bolson encourages workers to always use the buddy rule, never working alone in a bunker or near a pile. Silage sample should never be taken from the feed-out face, but should be taken from the loader bucket a safe distance from the silage. Children should never be allowed to play on or near a bunker or silage pile.
    Bolson recommends having safety meetings, including with those employees that do not usually work in silage areas, and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy in regards to compliance with protocols. All family members, including children, should be made aware of the dangers of silage bunkers, piles and silos. Warning signs should be posted in the silage area, and workers should be issued safety vests that fit properly.
    “We have nothing to lose by practicing safety,” Bolson said. “But, we have everything to lose by not practicing it.”