According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), farm workers are risking their lives every time they enter a manure pit. The oxygen-deficient, toxic, and/or explosive atmosphere which can develop in a manure pit has claimed many lives. NIOSH believes that warning farmers of this hazard will help end the continued devastation it is inflicting upon the American farm family.
"It is outrageous that we are losing virtually entire fatalities in manure pit tragedies," said NIOSH Director, Dr. J. Donald Millar. "While we know we cannot prevent a father from entering a pit to save his son, we can and will continue to do everything in our power to prevent farm workers from jeopardizing their lives by entering manure pits in the first place," stressed Millar.
It is not uncommon for manure pit incidents to result in multiple fatalities. As the following case demonstrates, persons attempting to rescue others in these confined spaces frequently become victims themselves. On a late summer afternoon, a farm worker entered a 10-foot-deep manure pit on his family's farm to make a repair. While attempting to climb out of the pit, he was overcome and fell to the bottom. His 15-year-old nephew then entered the pit to attempt a rescue. He too was overcome and collapsed. The boy's father, his cousin, and his grandfather, the farm owner, then entered the pit one by one, attempting to rescue him and his uncle. Tragically all five family members died.
Manure pit systems, used primarily on livestock farms (especially dairy and swine operations), allow for the easy cleaning of animal confinement buildings and the efficient underground storage of large amounts of raw manure. The hazards of manure pits, as well as the proper prevention measures, have been recognized by researchers for several years. However, many farm workers remain unaware of the dangers associated with manure pits. Because the dangerous manure pit gases may not always be pr sent, farm workers may have successfully entered these pits in the past. "It is hard to convince a worker who has entered a manure pit on several occasions without complications, that the potential for death exists," said Millar.
Although the potential for death always exists, farm workers should be particularly aware of the hazards of entering manure pits during the summer months. Changing conditions, such as warmer or more humid weather and increasing barometric pressure, can accelerate the production and accumulation of hazardous gases. Manure pits that had been entered without incident in the past, can quickly become filled with lethal concentrations of gases.
In order to prevent future deaths, farm workers must be informed of the dangers of manure pits. While NIOSH is currently working to develop practical prevention measures, current engineering controls are often expensive and impractical. Until more efficient prevention measures are developed, NIOSH urges farmers not to enter manure pits. If a pit must be serviced from the inside, farmers should consult the contacts listed on the following page for safe entry procedures. NIOSH urgently requests your assistance in disseminating the recommendations in this Update. Because manure pit fatalities increase in the summer months, we must act now to ensure the safety of our farm workers and their families.
WHAT ARE THE HAZARDS?
STEPS FOR PREVENTION To protect workers, the following precautions should be taken if a manure pit is in use on your farm:
For more information about this or other occupational
safety and health concerns, call toll-free: 1-800-35 NIOSH
Publication #: 93-114
This document is a NIOSH Publication, Publication date: July, 1993.
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC, 20201. Phone: (800) 356-467
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More