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From the Manure Editor: January-February 2017

Have a happy, safe 2017


 

A 16-year-old farm boy from Wisconsin; a middle-aged Michigan dairy farmer; a 56-year-old pig farmer and his 18-year-old hired hand, both from Quebec, Canada; two brothers from a dairying family in South Dakota; a 29-year-old cattle farmer, also from Wisconsin – 2016 was a dangerous year for those managing and handling manure.

According to reports, all of the people from this sampling of 2016 manure gas fatalities were going about their normal day-to-day work – spreading manure, making repairs, agitating a lagoon, servicing equipment. These were activities they’d probably done dozens of times before without incident.

 “Complacency kills,” stated Robb Meinen, a senior Extension associate with Penn State University, in a recent news release on manure gas safety. “It is not unusual in fatality situations to hear things like: ‘He’s gone in there to unclog that pump a hundred times.’”

It’s easy to take safety for granted. After all, we live in an increasingly bubble-wrapped world where even silica packets in shoeboxes warn us not to eat them. And while most farmers understand the dangers of entering enclosed spaces, such as pump pits and under-barn manure storages, some wouldn’t expect to find the same gas hazards working in an open-air area. But atmospheric conditions can play an important role in manure gas distribution.

That’s what investigators believe occurred to Mike Biadasz, an Amherst, Wisc., area farmer who died of acute exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas while agitating an outdoor manure lagoon on his family’s farm. A perfect storm of weather conditions – clear skies, no wind, heavy fog – caused the gases released during manure agitation to pool low to the ground, leading to the 29-year-old’s death.

In light of the tragedy, University of Wisconsin Extension held a manure gas safety webinar in early September to raise awareness of manure gases and update farmers about resources available to them. A recording of the presentation is available at Extension’s Agricultural Safety and Health website. During the 70-minute event, experts outlined the basics of manure gases, safety and monitoring recommendations, plus solutions to keep workers and livestock safe.

University of Wisconsin Extension is continuing its educational outreach by offering a workshop aimed at developing safety plans for manure storage and handling systems. It’s scheduled for Feb. 21 in Green Bay, Wisc., just prior to the 2017 Midwest Manure Summit.

While farming accidents are devastating to all involved, it’s important to learn from them.

The Biadasz family recognizes this. As a result of their son and brother’s death, they have opened a memorial fund in Mike’s name. The Mike Biadasz Farm Safety and Education Memorial Fund hopes to raise awareness and educate people about farm safety, including the dangers of manure gas. The fund, administered through the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin, has received more than $40,000 in donations.

Please keep safety in mind as we head into 2017. Be careful out there.