As crops come off this fall and the rush is on to empty manure pits and lagoons, be sure you, your family members and employees fully understand safety protocols.
“We assume that everyone should know the risks [of manure handling] and know what to do in an emergency,” says Tracey Erickson, an Extension dairy field specialist with South Dakota State University.
But everyone doesn’t, particularly new employees or those with limited English-speaking skills. “Taking the time to provide proper safety equipment, while simultaneously educating employees and family members about the correct safety protocols around confined manure handling systems helps prevent deaths and accidents,” she says.
There are four main, toxic gas risks associated with manure pits and lagoons:
- Methane: Methane is an odorless gas that is flammable or explosive at concentrations of 5% to 15% by volume of air. The gas is lighter than air and typically found near the top of the pit and high enough concentrations can cause death by suffocation.
- Hydrogen Sulfide: Hydrogen sulfide is an extremely toxic gas with a “rotten egg” smell at low concentrations and which at high concentrations can paralyze the olfactory senses. It is heavier than air and often settles towards the bottom of the manure pit. At low concentrations it can cause dizziness, headache, nausea, and respiratory tract irritation. At high concentrations it can cause unconsciousness, respiratory failure and death within minutes. It is also explosive at various concentrations.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Carbon Dioxide is an odorless gas that is heavier than air and often settles near the bottom of the manure pit. At low concentrations it causes labored breathing, drowsiness and headaches. In high concentrations it can displace enough oxygen and cause death via suffocation.
- Ammonia (NH3): Ammonia has sharp odor characteristics that irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Exposure to high concentrations can be fatal.
Erickson offers these safety tips for manure pits and lagoons:
- Keep all manure pits ventilated and fans working properly.
- Keep all manure pits covered with appropriately ventilated grating.
- Post hazard signs near all manure pit entry point locations.
- Never enter a manure pit unless absolutely necessary and only when proper safeguards are utilized.
- If entry into the pit is necessary, test the air for toxic gases.
- Never enter a manure pit unless someone is standing by and maintaining constant contact. The person standing watch, should be able to lift an unconscious person wearing a safety harness attached to a lifeline. They should NEVER enter the pit trying to rescue someone and have the ability to communicate necessary information in case of an emergency 911 call.
- Always wear a safety harness that attached to a mechanical device such as a winch, hoist or pulley. This is your lifeline, so the person on the outside must maintain constant contact with the lifeline.
- Always wear a positive-pressure, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
- Provide a powered, explosion proof air ventilation system for each manure pit that will help bring in a continuous fresh air supply.
- NEVER enter a manure pit to attempt a rescue without a safety harness and proper respiratory protection!
- Open air lagoons should be fenced off around the perimeter with locked access gates to keep unauthorized people or unwanted animals from accidentally entering them.
- Hazard signs posted at entry points warning of toxic gases and drowning dangers.
- Wear a safety harness attached to a lifeline with someone on the other end that can drag you out if it is necessary to enter the lagoon.
- Rescue equipment such as flotation devices and lifelines attached to every manure pump.
- Move slowly around manure lagoons as the ground can be uneven causing a person to trip and fall.
- Never work alone but all other unnecessary bystanders should stay away from access points or pump-out points.
- No horseplay allowed in these areas.
- No smoking or open flames allowed near agitation or pumping areas due to the explosive gases that may be present.
- If equipment breakdown occurs during agitation or pumping shut it down and remove it from the lagoon area before servicing.
- Follow the same 911 emergency call guidelines as manure pits, be able to describe the situation, number of victims, location and directions.