Over the last few months we have had a few tragic deaths of humans and livestock from gas accumulation while emptying manure pits. Usually we are outside and air dissipates these dangerous gases. We do not notice any harmful events but sometimes the normal takes an unexpected turn for the worst.
When you enter confined spaces to either operate the system or to move manure, grain or other products, safety practices should be should be implemented. Develop a plan or SOP and then practice it. This way when work needs to be done or something goes wrong, precautions can be taken to prevent a disaster. Here is a list of items to consider:
- Always work in pairs. One person can enter once you establish safe air and other parameters. Have a phone on the person staying out of the confined space.
- For grain bins, silos, feed bins. Lock out motors, wear harnesses and have person tethered. Also be aware that grain can crust and then break through covering the farmer.
- Manure reception pits and under the barn pits release gases which may be trapped in the area or create pockets of gas that can kill as well. In working with a farmer it was determined a four gas meter was needed to determine safe air quality before entry. Ventilation will help but some gases are heavier than air and can form pockets of deadly gas. A four air meter will read Oxygen level, Flammable gas such as methane, Carbon Monoxide level and Hydrogen Sulfide. You can get one that clips onto your clothes, or one with a probe to read 3-5 feet in front of you. Better to know the area has bad air and not enter than to enter and not be able to retreat to safety because that one breath got you.
Once you decide what tools you need to be safe you may need to find the equipment necessary. In looking for a four gas meter, shop around. They can explain how a gas meter works, when to calibrate and other operation considerations. We need to be safe in working around products and commodities we have become accustom to, but have considerable risk to our life and health.
Source: Zen Miller, UW-Extension Outagamie County Dairy & Livestock Agent