Manure Manager

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Guest Column: March/April 2010

April 23, 2010  by Tracy Schlater

On every farm and ranch across the world, manure happens. It’s one of the few constants in raising livestock.
On every farm and ranch across the world, manure happens. It’s one of the few constants in raising livestock. There’s more to managing manure than just the odor. Manure is the cause of thousands of injuries and deaths across the country. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youth died on farms in the United States, and about 5,800 youth were injured while performing work on farms in 2006.
Any amount of manure in a confined space can release various gasses. Hydrogen sulfide is an extremely toxic gas that can cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness. It smells like rotten eggs, but eventually the gas paralyzes your sense of smell, which makes some believe there isn’t an immediate danger.

According to the National Ag Safety Database, manure also releases other gasses including ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane all of which cause asphyxiation. The main hazard of methane is its flammable nature. Without proper ventilation, manure pits and lagoons are at risk of explosion.

Gasses are only one of the many hazards. Slurry is thicker than water, making it extremely difficult for someone to pull themselves out if they fall into a pit or lagoon. Children may be at a higher risk for these hazards due to their natural curiosity, lack of understanding about these potential dangers, and limited physical strength.

Amanda Vittetoe, from a pork producing family in southeastern Iowa, fell into a manure pit while helping unload pigs from a trailer.

“The manure was more than eight feet deep,” said Vittetoe to National Hog Farmer magazine. “It’s a completely different consistency than water. There was no coming up for a breath (of air). I didn’t have time to think. I was just trying to survive.”

Luckily, the truck driver delivering the pigs heard her fall and helped pull Vittetoe from the pit with the help of her mother. Vittetoe stresses the importance of taking your time, getting plenty of rest, and checking your work area for potential hazards.

In addition to gas and drowning incidents, a number of other accidents and injuries are possible while dealing with manure. Jennifer Hale of Okeana, Ohio, was helping her son clean his steer pen when the pitch fork he was using went through her rubber boot, piercing her big toe, breaking the bone, and exiting the other side of her toe.

“I was thinking of how dirty a manure covered pitchfork was and what it was going to do to my toe,” said Hale. “The doctors at the hospital were concerned with infection getting into the bone.”

Like Hale’s injury, nearly all manure related accidents are preventable. Keep these safety tips in mind while working around manure.

  • Education – Know and understand the dangers of working with manure. Teach these hazards to family members, employees, and visitors.
  • Signs – Post “warning” or “danger” signs in enclosed areas where toxic gases may build up. The visual may be just enough to remind people of the potential hazards.
  • Minimal agitation – According to the Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH), hydrogen sulfide is released faster when the manure is agitated. Keep agitation while pumping to a minimum and use all ventilation possible. Even if the area is ventilated, it is possible to have toxic levels of gas. Keep all people and animals out of the building while pumping is occurring.
  • Stay out – There is no safe way to go into a pit or lagoon. If you don’t have to go in, just stay out. If you must go into a pit for repair, empty it, fill it one-third full of water, empty again, and leave for 24 hours. You must wear a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), which requires training and certification to use and does not adequately fit children. Always use a harness and have two people outside ready to pull you out.
  • Monitor – Equipment is now available to determine the level of gases present. Purchase and use monitors to know when the gasses reach dangerous levels.
  • Protection – Manure pits and lagoons should be covered. Ensure they fit securely and are in good condition. Take it one step further by building a fence around the pit to keep people away from the potential dangers.

Probably the toughest safety precaution in manure related accidents is not to go into the pit to help if someone is in trouble. If the person becomes asphyxiated, the gas levels are too high. More than likely the rescuer will not have enough time to save the person, and they will become a victim as well.

Likewise, if the pit is full and someone falls in, do not attempt to save him or her. Even before setting foot inside a manure pit or lagoon, a person should be harnessed with enough force at the top to pull them out. Trying to save someone under the heavy weight of slurry is nearly impossible.

Instead, call 911 immediately. The responders will have the knowledge, equipment, and manpower to help a drowning victim while minimizing the risk to the rescuer.

How can kids help? Get them involved. Make sure they’re aware of the dangers. Encourage them to tell you if they smell rotten eggs or see any potential hazards. Ask them to be safety stewards by reminding others – including parents – of necessary safety precautions.

It’s crucial to be aware of the dangers when working around manure. Implementing a few safety precautions can mean the difference between life and death.

Tracy Schlater is the marketing director for Farm Safety 4 Just Kids. Farm Safety 4 Just Kids strives to keep rural kids safe and healthy by creating farm safety material for youth and sponsoring programs put on by our chapter network across the United States and Canada. .


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