Prevent Fatalities From Self Unloading Forage Wagons

  • Pollock, John G.

We can only guess why Todd climbed into the unloading wagon when it was running. Nobody else was there to see what happened. Perhaps something went wrong with the moving apron under the chopped forage and the material was not advancing into the beaters. Perhaps the beaters just could not break up the feeding material and became clogged. Whatever the reason, it was the last thing that Todd did because he was caught in the beaters and killed.

The name in this story is fictitious, but the story is true. During the last seven years, six workers on New York State farms have been killed when entangled in self-unloading forage wagons. Most were youthful workers. Somehow, they are missing the message that forage wagons are dangerous.

Prevention techniques are not complicated, but often go ignored. The purpose of new safety devices on forage wagons is misunderstood and the devices are misused. Consider the following safety precautions.

Keep wagons well maintained. Workers climb into running units because of a breakdown. The urgency of keeping the haying operation going overrides the need to work safely. Preventive maintenance before the haying season can greatly reduce downtime. Conveyors, augers, and beaters should work smoothly, without excessive clatter. Moving parts and PTO drives should be shielded if possible. The safety trip bar should be operational.

The safety trip bar should not be used as a drive-control device. The trip bar is an emergency mechanism; it will not prevent accidents. It may reduce the severity of an injury but the trip bar is designed to work when an entanglement occurs. Using the trip bar as a drive-controller may give false security to workers believing it is acceptable to work close to the beaters when they are running. Always shut down the power to the wagon before working on or near any power shafts, pulleys, gears, augers, conveyors, and especially the beaters.

Observe other wagon safety rules. Move wagons at reasonable speeds. Don't coast downhill. Avoid ditches, steep banks, and obstacles. Keep tires in good repair. Don't overload the wagon. Keep riders off wagons. Be cautious when hitching and unhitching wagons; block the wheels to prevent unwanted movement. Use a tractor large enough to provide proper braking for the loading of the wagon.

Equip heavy highway haulers with brakes. Saving some money when purchasing wagons and trailers through not buying brakes may be a fatal mistake. Listen carefully to the advice of the manufacturer and dealer. Brakes may not be required but they are smart business.

Be particularly safety conscious on public roads. Young workers often have the task of hauling wagons back and forth from field to storage facility. You must be confident that the worker is skilled and mature enough to handle the job. Know the laws and obey them. Use good road manners by staying in your lane. If traffic backs up behind you, pull over and stop to let it pass. Be courteous even if other drivers are not.

John G. Pollock, Executive Director, NYS Rural Health and Safety Council at Cornell

Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Provider: Ag Information Services -- News & Publications, Penn State
January 6, 1994

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