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Risks and Hazards of Manure Management

10 June 2014

Ventilation, signage, fencing and even atmosphere tests are worthwhile precautions against the dangers of slurry, says a Virginia farm adviser.

Every month Farm Bureau releases the monthly accident report for Virginia. This report serves a reminder of how dangerous jobs in agriculture are. Now that we are finally starting to see signs of spring and summer, farmers are out doing what they do best to ensure feed for their cattle.

This is according to Cynthia Martel, writing in her latest extension piece for Franklin County. Spreading manure and seeding fields for new crops will be top priority.

In light of the recent accidental manure spills and the start of a new season, it seems timely to write about manure.

Manure poses deadly hazards every day to humans, cattle, and the environment.

"Every farmer and employee should know the
risks involved with the management and
handling of manure.”

Emptying a manure pit or lagoon for field application may be a routine event on a dairy farm, but can also be a deadly chore. A quick online search with the key words “manure pit deaths” took 0.48 seconds to list 215,000 results. Virginia farmers are not blind to this type of deadly incident, but deaths from manure pits over the last decade seem to be increasing.

Searching “manure pit deaths in Virginia” resulted in 344,000 hits. Most of the articles talk about the 2007 Shenandoah Valley tragedy, where the farming community lost five members from one farm because they were overwhelmed by the deadly fumes created by manure. When incidents occur on farms dealing with manure pits, the outcome usually results in loss of life of several individuals.

Our natural reaction is to help those in need, typically increasing the loss of life from one to many. Every farmer and employee should know the risks involved with the management and handling of manure.

Manure pits and lagoons need proper ventilation and according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) every manure storage site should be treated like any other type of confined space. Storage of manure allows for the buildup of toxic fumes caused by hydrogen sulfide, methane, carbon dioxide, and other noxious gases like ammonia.

As manure decomposes under anaerobic digestive fermentation it creates an oxygen-deficient and explosive atmosphere. To reduce loss of life all manure pits should be:

  1. Ventilated
  2. Tested for atmospheric quality,
  3. Posted with hazardous signs,
  4. Fenced off from Humans and Animals.

All individuals needing to work around and in manure pits should:

  1. Never enter a manure pit without backup!
  2. Require one or more individual(s) to be
  3. present during entry.
  4. Require proper equipment, breathing
  5. equipment, safety harnesses, and mechanical lifting equipment.
  6. Work with local public safety, fire departments, EMS, and police to set up onfarm drills.

Manure is the farmer’s black gold! Farmers rely on the manure to fertilize the fields and crops to feed their cows. Manure not only affects and creates a deadly environment for farmers, but can create problems for cattle, as well as other animals and aquatic life. Poorly ventilated facilities pose health problems for cattle.

Cows, as well as farmers, can suffer from toxic slurry gases

Toxic gases from manure can lead to respiratory problems in cows, which can ultimately affect milk production and reproduction.

Sick cows eat less which in turn reduces milk production and creates an unstable energy balance leading to reproductive problems.

Every year farmers are faced with the awful possibility of death from fumes and the potential environmental nightmare associated with accidental spills.

Every farmer fears the day when he or she returns home to find a manure spill with manure coating the banks of a nearby stream.

Manure that enters a water source can kill fish and aquatic life quickly, which presents a health hazard to humans and animals downstream that might rely on that water source. In the event of a manure related accident every farm should:

  1. Have protocols posted for all types of manure related situations.
  2. Have a phone nearby to call 911 or Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) report a spill.
  3. Teach everyone on the farm how to react in the event of manure related incident.

Have a Plan! Every farmer needs to have a plan in place BEFORE an accident. Contact your local Extension Office if you think your farm needs to develop protocols to manage manure related risks and hazards to help prevent a deadly event.

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