Proper equipment and planning essential for safe large bale handling

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Three people have been killed and two people seriously injured in Canada so far in 2013 due to accidents while handling large round bales, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) says.

Glen Blahey, the association’s agricultural safety and health specialist says the majority of injuries occur when bales are being placed onto or removed from transport vehicles.

“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 said.

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.

CASA, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) and Farm Credit Canada (FCC) launched Get with the Plan! last spring, 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.

Bruce Johnson, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association (FARSHA) said 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,” he said.

There are four main stages of bale transport, each with risks: lifting, loading, transport and unloading. Here are some recommendations for staying safe.


Improper lifting can cause vehicles to roll over 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 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.


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 should be done cautiously to avoid unexpected bale movement.

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

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.

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