Stay safe when working with huge bales

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By The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association

You see them dotting the rural landscape in freshly cut, satisfying rows throughout the summer and early fall. To the urban passerby, they are picturesque. But to producers, large bales can turn into life threatening wrecking balls if proper handling procedures aren’t followed.

Large, often round, bales began edging out small square varieties back in the 1970s, when the size of farming operations began to make the task of manually tossing thousands of 60 pound square bales back and forth between field and barn less than idyllic. Today large bales are used widely and range from about 800 to 1,500 pounds for the predominant round variety, to between 1,000 to 2,000 pounds for their larger square cousins.

But there are some inherent downsides to these huge bundles. Firstly, their size and weight is unforgiving, ensuring that any improper handling technique could have serious consequences. Secondly, in the case of round bales, they are unstable. Like a wheel rolling down a hill, the utmost care must be taken when handling round bales to ensure they stay put.

Glen Blahey is the Agricultural Safety and Health Specialist for the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association. “The majority of injuries occur when bales are being placed onto or removed from transport vehicles, or when an operator is lifting the bales incorrectly, either with improper spearing techniques or lifting the bales beyond their centre of gravity. If a bale falls, it could crush the operator or anyone nearby. So handlers need to ensure they are lifting correctly and that their operating space is totally clear of bystanders,” he says.

In March, CASA, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) and Farm Credit Canada (FCC) launched Get with the Plan!, a Canadian Agricultural Safety Week campaign focused on encouraging farmers to develop their own health and safety plans. Blahey says safe bale handling is one piece of the larger safety picture. “Producers should always be scanning their operations for hazards, and developing strategies to make their work safer.”

Bruce Johnson is the Executive Director of the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association (FARSHA). He points out that when transporting bales, operators should ensure their hauling equipment is capable of handling the load and making sure all bales are secure before transport.

“Moving and transporting large bales whether round or square requires specialized equipment, usually things go wrong when proper equipment and procedures are not being used or followed. It is vital that operators and handlers are made aware by manufacturers and dealers of the equipment required to carry out the work efficiently and safely, and that they have received adequate training,” he says.

In 2013 so far, there have been three media reports of men in Canada being killed while transporting bales and another two of men incurring serious injury. In February, an Ontario man was struck by a falling hay bale while handling it with a front-end loader. He eventually died of his injuries. In May, a man in British Columbia was injured when a bale gave way and struck him while he was repairing the wrapping on a bale of hay being moved from the field to a barn. He suffered non-life threatening injuries.

For more information on safe bale handling contact CASA at or FARSHA at, or visit to learn how to develop a complete farm safety plan.

There are four main stages of bale transport, each with their own risks: lifting, loading, transport and unloading. To stay safe, observe the following recommendations.

Lifting: Improper lifting can cause vehicles to rollover or bales to roll or fall off of lifting equipment, putting operators or bystanders at risk.

- Ensure adequate operating space clear of all bystanders.

- When handling bales, the lift capacity on a front end loader or telehandler must be greater than the bale being moved. If not, the vehicle could overturn.

- Always use proper loading systems when lifting with front-end loaders. Buckets should not be used. Double spears work well but beware of single spears. They should not be used unless they are supplemented with a stabilizer to keep the bale from rotating and giving way, rolling over bystanders or operators in the process.

- Always pierce round bales in the centre of the load. If it’s too low it could rotate forward along the spear pivot point, breaking free from handling equipment and rolling onto anyone in its path. Too high and it could rotate back and crush the operator.

- Never lift beyond the centre of gravity of a bale. If a bale is lifted too high, it could roll the vehicle or fall off and crush the operator or bystanders.

Loading: Loading too quickly can unsettle already placed loads, creating risks for loaders and bystanders.

- Ensure there are no bystanders near the transport vehicle, especially the opposite side of the vehicle being loaded.

- Stack bales in a tight, pyramidal format to provide support during transport.

- Do not push bales too hard onto the vehicle. This could cause bales on the opposite side of the vehicle to fall off.

- Secure bales with straps in both directions as per regulations across most of Canada to protect motorists while on the road.

Transport: Visibility and blind spots can create multiple roadway hazards for both transport drivers and motorists.

- Plan your route and be aware of traffic conditions.

-  Use proper warning lights and consider using a pilot vehicle to help warn motorists of upcoming (especially left) turns. Even with all these measures in place, be cautious. Motorists may not see or recognize your turning lights. For motorists, if you can’t see a driver’s mirrors, they can’t see you.

Unloading: Unloading should be done cautiously to avoid unexpected bale movement.

- Select a location for unloading that has even, hard ground with adequate space for maneuvering.

- Clear the area of bystanders.

- Determine whether the load has shifted during transport. Make adjustments to reduce the risk of bales falling.

- Remove all straps carefully and do not begin unloading until the truck driver is clear of the site.

- Ensure your unloading equipment is adequate for the weight of the bales and height of the bale stack.

- Unload from the top, working down as you go.

- Pierce bales carefully so as not to push bales off the opposite side of the vehicle.

Organizations: Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Farm Credit Canada Ranch Safety and Health Association

Geographic location: Canada

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