Calls have been made for increased farm safety and vigilance in the run up to silage season and summer 2023.

The Health and Safety Executive of Northern Ireland (HSENI) recently released a safety alert in relation to the filling of fertiliser sowers.

The safety alert was published in collaboration with the Farm Safety Partnership with the aim of reminding farmers and contractors to take extra care when operating machinery and equipment on the farm, but especially now throughout the summer months. 

This call was recently echoed by the deputy president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), William Irvine, who highlighted the increased need for farm safety in the lead up to summer.

“Spring and summer are busy seasons on farm with farmers eager to get field work done when the weather is on side,” he said.

“However, it’s critical that farmers do not rush into any task and that they take a moment to think about the job they are about to do before starting to ensure they do it in the safest way possible.”

Irvine urged farmers to read farm safety advice from the HSENI and other farm safety partners to help keep themselves safe when spreading fertiliser.

slurry spreading

“Remember, never enter the danger area between the two vehicles when cutting the fertiliser bag,” he said.

“Big bags should be cut open at the bottom with a long-handled knife. Make sure the handbrake is on both the tractor being used to fill the sower, and the tractor with the spreader.

“It is good practice also to carry a mobile phone in case you need assistance or an accident occurs.”

The HSENI said it has investigated three machinery incidents which involved a very routine operation where fertiliser was being loaded into the hopper of a sower.

“In the three incidents one of the vehicles involved in the operation moved and tragically killed the farmer caught between one or the two machines,” the health agency said.

The HSENI has urged farmers to follow its ‘Safety Essentials’:

  • Always ensure you are using the right equipment for the job;
  • Never enter the danger area between the two vehicles when cutting the fertiliser bag. If you have to cut the bag attach a knife to a long pole which will allow you to stand out of the danger area between the two vehicles;
  • Always ensure both machines are on firm level ground;
  • Always practice the safe stop procedure i.e. ensure the handbrake is fully engaged on both vehicles, controls are in neutral, engine is off and keys are taken out before loading the hopper;
  • To avoid the need to work in hazardous areas, if possible get the fertiliser delivered loose and load from a bucket/scoop directly into the hopper;
  • Ensure all machinery and equipment is maintained in good working order by a competent person; Never use a vehicle with defective brakes;
  • Where possible have two people carry out this task;
  • Ensure all implements are attached correctly and securely to the forks of the loading vehicle, never reuse bags unless specifically designed for multiple lifts;
  • It is advisable to have stop blocks/wheel chocks on stationary vehicles.

Silage season

Rural insurer NFU Mutual has called for farmers to prioritse farm safety ahead of silage season, calling for Northern Ireland’s farmers not to compromise safety in the rush for the first silage cut of the season. 

NFU Mutual warned that, as the machinery being used for silage cutting may not have been used for several months, farmers and employers should ensure the carrying out of machine maintenance.

NFU Mutual Northern Ireland manager Martin Malone said safety must remain a farmer’s top priority this silage season.

“Getting high quality silage is vital for farmers who are facing high fertiliser and energy costs, but safety must remain at the forefront of minds this silage-making season,” he said.

“Working under pressure to get crops in before the weather changes is a perennial issue for farmers, but it is a well-known fact farm incidents happen when people are tired, machinery is pushed too hard or work continues in unfavourable conditions. No cut of silage is worth someone’s life or limb.”


Andy Manson, managing director of NFU Mutual risk management services, added: “Checks on brakes, tyres, trailer couplings, hydraulic pipes and lights are an essential part of a pre-cut maintenance schedule.

“If you’ve got new people on the team, it is important to make sure they are trained to operate the machinery they will be using and warned about any hazards on the farm, such as steep slopes, slippery lanes and blind spots on public roads, including the actions to take to combat those hazards.

“Also make sure staff know the safe working loads of trailers and don’t allow trailers to be overfilled. You should never compromise on people’s safety.”

NFU Mutual has released a “silage safety checklist” that includes things farmers can do before silage harvesting, while working in the fields and while working on silage clamps.

This can be accessed via the NFU Mutual website.

Child safety on-farm

With the increased workload in the summer months, and with primary and secondary schools on summer holidays, there can be an increased risk of accidents involving children on-farm.

Between 2010 and 2019, the main cause of death in children who died in agriculture and forestry related incidents was tractors/other machinery.

This research, and the recent farm safety alerts issued by the HSENI and the UFU, has coincided with children’s farms safety educator AgriKids’ own call for awareness in relation to child safety on-farm during the summer months.

Founder of AgriKids, Alma Jordan, said that farm safety and alertness must become instinctive, especially during the summer months.

Jordan said that the increase in machinery usage over the coming months usually sees an increase in accidents and fatalities involving children, as contractors enter yards and silage starts being cut.

She asked that farming families be aware that children should not interfere with contractors doing their jobs and that they are not obliged to give rides or goes on the machinery or equipment to kids.

“That’s not their job, they’re not trained in that. Contractors are not babysitters,” she said.

“We see a lot of incidents like this on farms, where children under the age of 16 are expected to help out especially in machinery-related jobs over the summer months.

“Their maturity level is not there, and they just do not have the full capability to deal with things if they go wrong.”

Jordan said that farm safety needs to be an open and ongoing discussion within farming families to curb the rising rate of incidents and fatalities involving children on the farm.

She highlighted the belief that most farming families tend to have towards the risk of incidents and fatalities, which is that it will not happen to them.

“A lot of the families I meet and talk to who have gone through an incident or a farm fatality have all said the same thing: ‘We never thought it would happen to us’.

“Those few extra seconds taken to make sure something is safe, or something is closed or turned off, before moving on can actually be life changing.”