Bales and bale handling

This webpage gives advice on how to store and handle bales safely.

The hazards commonly associated with bale handling and known to have caused serious injuries include:

  • dangerous manoeuvring and loading and unloading of vehicles
  • unsafe use of lifting equipment
  • unstable stacking of bales
  • poor techniques for manual handling
  • unsafe bale opening
  • unsafe system of work

Cranes and teagle hoists are sometimes used for lifting bales, particularly in older-type mill buildings.  Possible safety problems include:

  • inadequate maintenance
  • unplanned lifting work
  • overloading
  • other abuse or misuse, especially of the associated lifting tackle
  • unprotected teagle openings

Bale storage

At most sites, bales are held in a warehouse or similar storage area, waiting for process or despatch.  The main safety objective in the storage area is to maintain safe and stable stacks, so bales do not fall.

Instability can happen in two ways:

  • stacks may be unstable from the outset because of poor stacking techniques.
  • stacks may have been stable originally but have become unstable - possible causes for this could be disturbance as adjacent bales are stacked or destacked, or disturbance if struck by a lift truck; slippage of bales.

Avoiding instability is not straightforward because of variations in the shape, size, weight and density of bales.  These variations call for stack configurations and methods of stacking and de-stacking that differ considerably from one bale type to another.  The surface texture of the bale wrappings is also significant, eg plastic wrappings are prone to slippage and can quite easily lead to instability in a stack.

An essential safety measure is to place the warehousing and storage operations under the direct supervision of an individual who is responsible, experienced and competent.  This individual, carefully selected by management and capable of making an objective assessment of the safety and stability of the stacks, should have the authority and personality to exert strict control over all aspects of the work.

Safe working procedures for stacking and de-stacking should be drawn up and agreed with all appropriate personnel.  These procedures should consider:

  • the limitations of storage area such as the floor space and height available
  • the physical properties of the various types of bales
  • the type of lifting and handling equipment to be used

Stock rotation is also necessary to optimise the stacking arrangements.

General pointers to safe storage

  • Keep gangways/walkways clear within the storage area and between stacks, to allow safe movement of lifting and handling equipment
  • The storage space reserved for bales should have adequate space to allow safe movement of equipment and bales in the area, maintaining clear gangways
  • Floor surfaces should be firm and level
  • Floors should not be overloaded, eg in multi-storey buildings
  • Stacking in a pyramid fashion and using binder bales can help to keep stacks stable
  • Store damaged or doubtful-looking bales separately, not in the bulk of a stack
  • Inspect stacks at least weekly and keep a record of the inspections and any resulting action
  • Make sure timber pallets are in good condition if they are used
  • Make sure personal protective equipment worn during handling, packing and unpacking of bales is adequate
  • Introduce a safe system of work and procedures for bale handling, stacking and de-stacking
  • Provide training in bale handling and handling equipment

To minimise climbing on stacks, attach identification tickets to bales where they can be read easily by a person standing at floor level.

Bale handling

If possible, use mechanical equipment to handle bales, rather than manual handling.  This equipment will bring its own hazards and you need to make sure of the following:

  • All bale-handling equipment (including bale elevating systems is guarded adequately and maintained regularly
  • All conveyor nip points are guarded and trap entanglement areas are guarded or made safe by design
  • Access to rams or other moving parts are guarded by fixed guards or interlocked to a suitable standard
  • Shearing points are guarded or made safe by distance
  • Any work at height is accessible by adequate steps and platforms and these should be interlocked where moving parts are accessible
  • Safe system of work, including isolation, are in place for use when working inside guards, for example during cleaning and maintenance
  • Horizontal bale presses are fitted with door interlocks of a suitable design and integrity
  • On swivel boxes, the control should be a 'hold to run' type
  • On automatic swivel boxes there should be trip guards and warning signals
  • No one on foot should be allowed near the stacks when lifting or handling equipment is operating

Further guidance

The following pieces of guidance, produced for the agriculture and recovered paper industries, give a great deal of useful information relevant to the textile industry.

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Updated 2022-01-05