Farm worker fatally injured while handling hay bales

WorkSafe is issuing a safety alert about the hazards and risks associated with handling and storage of hay bales, following the death of a worker when handling hay bales near a haystack.



Recently a farm worker was fatally injured when handling round hay bales near a haystack. It is believed the worker struck his head after hay bales fell from a stack behind him.

Safety Issues

Farmers and farm workers can be at risk of serious or fatal injuries when moving, lifting, loading or unloading hay bales.

The weight of bales can vary from 40kg to 1500kg, depending on the type of hay, the size of the bale, compaction density and moisture content. The size and weight of hay bales means the collapse of stacks, or hay bales falling from fixed stacks, mobile plant or attachments, can cause crush injuries or death.

Bales may fall due to:

  • instability caused by the way they are stacked, for example, stacking bales too high
  • not providing an adequate stack base
  • uneven compaction
  • settling over time
  • exposure to weather
  • undermining by rodents and/or livestock
  • movement, compression or collapse during transport
  • inadequate securing methods during transport

Recommended ways to control risk

Use safe systems of work

  • Choose a level, uncluttered and where possible a hard surface or well drained storage site for stacks so that bales can be loaded and unloaded more efficiently and safely.
  • Ensure the haystack or storage site and access to them is away from overhead powerlines.
  • Determine stack heights prior to commencing stacking, having regard to bale condition, terrain and equipment to be used.
  • Use stacking and unstacking equipment that can safely lift the weight, reach the top bales and is safe for the terrain.
  • Ensure stacking and unstacking equipment is maintained and in a condition suitable for use.

Use appropriate equipment to move, lift, load and unload hay bales

  • Make sure the equipment that you are using to load or remove hay from a stack has falling object protection (FOP) - a cabin with a roof rated for impact above the weight of the bales.
  • Ensure Equipment Safe Working Loads (SWLs) are not exceeded and do not use the equipment if you are unsure what the SWL is.
  • Make sure bales are secured by appropriate attachments (eg clamps, grabs or hay bale spikes) and the load is restrained when it is lifted or moved.
  • When stacking, provide a stable stack base by ensuring lower bales are sound and able to provide stability for upper layers, with any smaller lighter bales on the top layer.

Work safely around hay bales

  • Consider minimising the height of the stack immediately next to where people may access the area to reduce the potential for a bale to fall from height.
  • Regularly inspect stacks and before de-stacking, check bale condition to ensure stability and commence de-stacking from the top tier.
  • Undertake any farm work such as processing hay for livestock feed or attaching farm equipment to tractors, away from the stack or hay shed so that you are clear of any bales that may fall.
  • Keep people who are not directly involved away from the work area, including setting up an exclusion zone around vehicles when loading or unloading.
  • When transporting bales, lash them to ensure they remain stable and check if they have moved, compressed or collapsed during transit before unloading.
  • Make sure that anyone handling bales is trained, competent and supervised correctly.

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), duties are imposed on certain persons to eliminate risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable, or to reduce those risks so far as is reasonably practicable if elimination of the risk is not reasonably practicable.

Employers have a number of duties under the OHS Act, which include but are not limited to:

  • a requirement to, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health
  • a requirement to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the employer's undertaking, and
  • a requirement to provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health

Employees also have duties under the OHS Act, including a requirement to take reasonable care for their own health and safety while at work, take reasonable care for the health and safety of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at a workplace and to co-operate with their employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with their legal duties.

In circumstances where powered mobile plant is used to load and unload hay bales at a workplace, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 require that an employer or self-employed person must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that an appropriate combination of operator protective devices is provided, maintained and used to reduce the risk of objects falling on the operator of powered mobile plant, so far as is reasonably practicable. Examples of suitable operator protective devices include FOP structures.

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