Pumping Pits - You Need a Safety Plan

Planning ahead can help save time and lives when it comes to manure pit safety, according to Ohio State University (OSU) Extension safety experts.
calendar icon 21 August 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

Hazardous gases not only lurk within the pit but can also permeate buildings when pits are agitated during pumping, warns Dee Jepsen, OSU agricultural safety extension leader.

"There are an average of 92 fatalities each year [in the USA] associated with ag-related confined spaces and many of these fatalities resulted from asphyxiation," she says. Ms Jepsen urges producers to become familiar with the dangers before an emergency arises.

Four gases are of particular concern when considering manure pit safety. Those gases include hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.

Hydrogen sulphide is highly toxic and heavier than air. At lower concentrations, the gas has a rotten egg smell, but higher concentrations can deaden the sense of smell. Concentrations in the air can soar during agitation, Ms Jepsen says. Just a few breaths of hydrogen sulphide-laden air at 600ppm can cause loss of consciousness and death.

Carbon dioxide results from manure decomposition and animal respiration. The gas is heavier than air. Inadequate ventilation means carbon dioxide can displace oxygen and cause asphyxiation.

Methane, by contrast, is lighter than air. This gas is odourless and colourless. When ventilation is inadequate, methane can displace oxygen and cause asphyxiation.

Ammonia is a lighter gas that possesses a characteristic 'urine' smell.

"Ammonia causes less of an immediate concern because the strong, persistent odour discourages long contact," Ms Jepsen explains. Higher concentrations can cause wheezing and shortness of breath.

"Take the time to invite the local rescue squad to come out to practise training for rescue operations"
Dee Jepsen, OSU agricultural safety extension leader

As part of the safety planning process, Ms Jepsen and Timothy Butcher, OSU Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) program coordinator, recommend producers have at least one type of monitoring equipment such as gas and vapour detector tubes, diffusion tubes or electronic reading instruments. Before entering a manure pit, workers should prepare to wear safety equipment such as a body harness connected to a retrieval tripod.

A self-contained breathing apparatus is crucial to keep workers from inhaling deadly gases in the manure pit.

"Check to make sure you have cell [mobile] phone coverage in the area before you are in an emergency situation and know the approximate response time for emergency services," Ms Jepsen says.

She suggests taking the time to invite the local rescue squad to come out to practise training for rescue operations. This not only provides valuable practice, but also helps the emergency responders become familiar with the operation in a non-emergency situation.

"That way they will know what to expect if you need help in the future," she explains.

August 2008
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