Hay Baler Safety

Mark Badertscher, OSU Extension, Hardin County ANR Educator

Operating a hay baler safely is a concern in late July and early August when there is still straw in the field and later cuttings of hay to be made. Oftentimes wheat and hay fields that have more slope than row crops like corn and soybeans, and because of this, the fields can be rough or steep, making tractor and machinery operation a concern.

Because changing weather conditions can quickly lower hay and straw quality, baling is often done with limited time. Therefore, operators must always work safely as no hay or straw crop is worth injury or death. Careless operation that saves time but injures workers is never a good option.

Balers can cause considerable harm if not serviced or operated safely. Knives, belts, power take-off (PTO) shafts, augers, knotters, and mechanical arms must be regarded with extreme caution. Driving at the correct ground speed will help eliminate possible breakdowns and injury. If service is needed, the operator must disengage all power, shut off the engine, and wait for the flywheel and all other moving parts to stop completely before beginning any repairs.

Other recommendations for safe baler operation include:

  • While someone is working on the machine, never allow anyone to turn the flywheel. Moving parts can easily injure someone.
  • Be sure bale twine or wire is properly spliced and threaded in the machine to avoid knotter problems.
  • While the knotter is in operation, never pull anything out of it. You can easily become entangled in it.
  • When the machine is running, don't hand feed material, such as broken bales or heavy windrows, into it. Instead, spread the material on the ground so the machine can pick it up.  
  • Wear close-fitting clothing: no hooded shirts or jackets with drawstrings, and tie hair back.

Bale Ejectors

The two most common bale ejecting or throwing mechanisms are hydraulically powered, high speed belts and bale-throwing frames. Each type can throw heavy bales of hay, and cause seriously injury if not respected. There is risk for workers being struck by a bale as it is ejected, or by the throwing frame and pan if standing too close.

Safety precautions to take with bale ejectors:

  • Disengage all power, shut off the engine, and move the ejector lockout control into locked position before inspecting, servicing, or adjusting the bale ejector.
  • No one should stand behind or work on the ejector while the PTO and engine are operating, or while a bale is in the ejector.
  • Shut off tractor engine, disengage the PTO, and engage ejector lockout control before hitching or unhitching wagon behind ejector.
  • Don't allow anyone to ride in the bale wagon.

Manual Bale Loading

Manual bale loading is safe if it is done carefully. The nature of wagons and bale handling requires extra caution due to the following potential hazards:

  • Starts and stops can cause handlers to fall off the wagon or truck.
  • Workers might step off the wagon or truck while loading bales.
  • Falls from the wagon or truck can result in fractures, sprains, and concussions or getting run over.
  • Tossing bales could knock someone off balance.
  • Use hand signals to communicate when working with baling equipment (refer to “Hand Signals for Agricultural Safety” module).

For more information, go to https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/aex-59126.

Mark Badertscher, ANR Educator Hardin County, can be reached at 419-767-6037 or badertscher.4@osu.edu. This column is provided by the OSU Agricultural Safety and Health Team. https://agsafety.osu.edu/.