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Farmer fatally injured by fallen hay bale

In July 2019, a farm worker was fatally injured when a bale of hay weighing approximately 720kg fell onto him. Early indications are he was unloading bales of hay using a front-end loader with fork attachments. It appears he exited the loader and approached the trailer to remove a strap. A hay bale that had become unstable fell from the trailer, fatally crushing him. Investigations are continuing.

Preventing a similar incident

The agricultural industry includes many grower subsectors such as nursery and floriculture production, mushroom and vegetable growing, fruit and tree nut growing and other crop growing. Farm machinery and equipment are an integral part of the production process.

Working with hay bales is common in this industry. Bales can be small rectangular, large rectangular or large round and consist of grass, lucerne, straw, stubble or other herbaceous plant material that has been compressed, tightly bound or baled together (including wrapped round silage bales).

There are serious health and safety risks working with bales including:

  • falls from bale stacks
  • falls from vehicles and machinery used to transport or stack bales
  • being struck by falling or collapsing bales
  • electrocution from contact with overhead electricity power lines
  • trips and falls from loose bale string
  • contact with bale handling machinery such as bale elevators
  • fires
  • lifting and carrying (manual handling related injuries e.g. sore backs, pulled muscles and strains)
  • exposure to dust (causing respiratory diseases and infections).

Workers and bystanders are at risk if bales fall or collapse while loading or unloading trucks or trailers. Large round or rectangular bales can weigh up to 800 kilograms. Bales may fall if:

  • they have moved, compressed or collapsed during transit
  • they are stacked incorrectly (e.g. round bales stacked on their sides and not on the flat ends, which is the safest method)
  • they are stacked too high and become unstable, particularly when the individual hay bales making up the stack do not align with one another
  • inappropriate lashings, ropes or inadequate securing methods have been used
  • workers have not been trained to perform the task safely
  • bale handling equipment is not properly designed, constructed and maintained.

A concise risk management process should be completed and safe systems of work should be in place before any work with hay bales is started. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who operate and manage the business or undertaking.

Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process. Risk management involves four steps

  • Identify hazards – find out what could cause harm.
  • Assess risks– understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.
  • Control risks – implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
  • Review control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

Once the risks have been assessed the next step is to control risks for unloading hay bales. These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control. PCBU's must work through this hierarchy to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimises risks. The hierarchy of control measures are as follows:

  1. Elimination – The most effective control measure is to remove the hazard or hazardous work practice associated with the unloading of hay bales.
  2. Substitution – Substitute the system of unloading the bales for one that is safer. For example:
    • using specifically designed bale handling equipment instead of manually handling bales
  3. Engineering – modifications to equipment. For example:
    • mobile plant and equipment that has been designed for the task (e.g. the use of 'telehandlers' or purpose-designed bale handling attachments such as hay bale clamps, grabs and spikes). Ensure the plant and any attachments are used in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications.
    • a self-levelling front-end loader attachment is used to prevent the bale falling
    • a backboard is used to prevent the bale falling backwards onto the operator.
  4. Administrative controls – If risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls, for example:
    • bales are never strapped or unstrapped while the trailer is still being loaded or unloaded
    • a load and unload sequence is implemented to prevent the load becoming unstable
    • loading or unloading occurs on level ground to minimise the potential for bale dislodgement or vehicle tip over
    • people loading or unloading hay bales are trained, competent and correctly supervised
    • a safe system of work has been developed and implemented
    • people loading or unloading large bales always stand clear of the trailer, where the loader driver can see them

Administrative control measures rely on human behaviour and supervision and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks.


Each year, 108 workers' compensation claims are accepted for injuries to workers being struck by a falling object from a truck or trailer. Of these, 50 per cent involve a serious injury requiring five or more days off work.

Since 1 July 2013, there have been 158 notified events involving people being injured by falling objects from or relating to trucks. Four of these were fatal and 80 involved a serious injury requiring hospitalisation. Of these, ten specifically related to the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry.

In the same period, we have issued ten statutory notices for issues involving people being injured by falling objects from or relating to trucks.

Prosecutions and compliance

In 2019, a member of a family trust partnership responsible for the management of a property was fined $60,000 after a worker sustained serious fracture injuries. The injured worker and another were required to load 600kg coils of wire onto a tractor mounted crane in preparation for fencing work. A locking pin, essential to ensure the coil and spindle did not fall, was not inserted into the bolt (through the capping device) and the coil fell from the crane onto the worker.

In 2018, a timber company was fined $210,000 after a truck driver was crushed to death while delivering product to the company. Using a forklift, another worker was unloading from one side of the truck, with the driver out of view on the other side releasing a loading strap. The forklift dislodged a load of timber which fell and crushed the truck driver.

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