Many producers have started accessing this year’s silage, whether it was put in bunkers, bags or silos. Safety should be a top priority as silage piles are accessed.
By: Tracey Erickson, SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist
Health Hazards: Gases & molds
When accessing silos, be aware of toxic gases that are produced during the fermentation process. These gases include nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). These gases are toxic and often fatal when inhaled. Typically, the greatest concentration of these gases occurs during the fermentation process in the first 3 weeks after completion of filling the silo. Once a silo is opened up for the first time run the silage blower for 20-30 minutes and wear a respirator before entering the confined space.
We also need to recognize that in addition to gases, sometimes there may be molds present. Some molds produce toxins such as aflatoxin, mycotoxin, endotoxin, etc., which can trigger asthma attacks or allergic reactions. Precautions such as dust masks or respirators are recommended also when handling moldy silage, anytime throughout the feed handling process.
Safely Accessing Your Silage
As producers enter a confined space they should be tethered to a rope or harness, which a person outside of the silo can use to pull the person out of a silo in emergency situations. The “lock-out-tag-out” system should be engaged so that the blower is not accidentally turned on by someone outside the silo if maintenance or repair is being performed inside the silo. Lastly, make sure all ladders and chutes are in good repair to prevent accidents from occurring.
Bunker silage piles provide different challenges in addition to the gases produced during fermentation. Precaution should be used in covered piles that are sealed tightly as they are opened making sure there is plenty of fresh air movement or an appropriate respirator is used. Other risks to be aware of once bunker silage piles are accessed often come in the form of avalanches and accidental burials and can occur in many ways.
- If silage piles are not properly opened and defaced an overhang or lip may occur at the top of the pile. These can collapse as silage underneath is removed. Always remove silage from the top of the pile working towards the bottom, evenly across the front of the pile.
- Collapse or breaking away of silage between old crop and new crop silage if a pile is “added unto” can cause silage to release and break away. Thus, extra caution should be used in these areas of piles.
- Care should also be taken when removing tires and tarps covering the pile, making sure not to get too close to the edge and fall off.
- Do not stand or gather in front of silage piles as one never knows when a pile may collapse or let loose burying people.
- When operating equipment around silage piles, make sure there is a cab equipped with a R.O.P.S. (rollover protective structure), to provide extra protection if the pile would collapse on top of the equipment.
Lastly, communicate and train all employees and workers on proper safety protocols for handling and accessing silage, while making sure that there is access to proper safety equipment simultaneously. Do not be afraid to correct improper worker performance, you may save a life!