Skip to content

Worker seriously injured when struck by hay bale

In May 2022, a contracted truck driver was seriously injured when one of the hay bales he was delivering fell on him. Early investigations indicate a worker employed by the property owner was operating a telehandler to unload the hay bales on the opposite side of the truck to where the driver was standing. For reasons not yet established, a bale has fallen from the truck crushing the driver who suffered serious spinal injuries.

Investigations are ongoing.

Safety issues

Working with hay bales is common 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
  • fires
  • lifting and carrying (manual handling related injuries such as sore backs, pulled muscles and strains)
  • exposure to dust (causing respiratory diseases and infections).

A concise risk management process must be completed, and safe systems of work should be in place before any work with hay bales starts.

Hay bales can fall from a truck during unloading

Photograph: Hay bales can fall from a truck during unloading

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

When loading or unloading hay bales from trucks or trailers, the main risks include:

Truck drivers, workers, farmers and family members (including children) are at risk if bales fall or collapse while loading or unloading trucks and 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 (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
  • workers have not been trained to perform the task safely
  • using bale handling equipment not properly designed, constructed and maintained.

After the PCBU has assessed the risks, they must implement control measures to manage those risks associated with the loading and unloading of hay bales. These control measures include:

  • separating people from mobile plant using barriers, fences or other similar options
    • where possible, workers should not access the loading/receiving area when 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 cease
    • PCBU’s have a responsibility to ensure all exclusion zones and unloading procedures are communicated and followed by workers and contractors
  • using appropriate mobile plant and equipment designed for the task such as telehandlers or purpose-designed bale handling attachments like 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 hay bale from falling
  • a backboard to prevent the hay bale falling backwards onto the operator
  • side gates of the truck will not spring open when unlatched before the lashing, side gates or tarpaulins are removed
  • the placement or removal of tarpaulins does not disturb or dislodge bales.

If there is residual risk, the PCBU must implement administrative controls. They should 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
  • bales are stacked according to Australian Fodder Industry Association guidelines
  • 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 (people loading/unloading bales should always stand clear of the trailer at a position where the loader driver can see them)
  • no-one is on the opposite side of the truck or trailer during loading/unloading
  • inspect the load prior to unloading to identify any potential movement of materials
  • 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.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury? For advice and support, visit our Facebook page or email