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Serious injuries – falling hay bale

In July 2020, a truck driver received serious injuries after being struck by a hay bale. Early investigations indicate hay bales were being unloaded by a forklift while the truck driver was doing something else, when for reasons yet to be established, a bale fell and struck him.

Investigations are continuing.

Preventing a similar incident

Working with hay bales is a common activity in the agricultural industry. Bales come in various shapes and sizes. They are made 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 hay bales including but not limited to:

  • 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.

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 have the potential to 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) or 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
  • using bale handling equipment that is not properly designed, constructed and maintained.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU’s) must ensure the provision and maintenance of a safe system of work when loading and unloading trucks involving hay bales. 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 implement control measures to manage the risks associated with loading and unloading hay bales. Following the hierarchy of control, you must always aim first to eliminate the hazards associated with loading and unloading hay bales. If elimination is not possible, work your way down the order of controls. This includes one or a combination of the following:

  • Isolation – separate people from mobile plant using barriers, fences or other similar options. Where possible, workers should not access the loading/receiving area when forklifts or other mobile plant are operating during the load/unload process. Creating dedicated waiting areas for truck drivers (consider a separate area) and ensuring the driver doesn’t leave the area otherwise loading/receiving activities will cease. PCBU’s have a responsibility to ensure all exclusion zones and unloading procedures are communicated and followed by workers and contractors.
  • Engineering controls - 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.
    • using a self-levelling front-end loader attachment to prevent the bale falling
    • a backboard to prevent the bale falling backwards onto the operator.
  • Administrative controls – If risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls. Consider developing and implementing a safe system of work that may include:
    • safe work procedures for ensuring bales are never strapped or unstrapped while the trailer is still being loaded or unloaded. Implement a load and unload sequence to prevent the load becoming unstable. Ensuring where practicable, bales are of equal size and density prior to stack formation and lower bales are sound and able to provide stability for upper layers. The Load Restraint Guide (published by the National Transport Commission) details the performance standards for securing loads on vehicles.
    • 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
    • implement and enforce exclusion zones so no-one places themselves between the load and the truck, trailer, lifting equipment or crush locations that may arise during loading or unloading (e.g. people loading or unloading bales should always stand clear of the trailer, at a position where the loader driver can see them)
    • inspect the load prior to unloading to identify any potential movement of materials.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) - consider using high-visibility or reflective clothing

Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision, and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks. The control measures you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.

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