Sept. 20 2012 06:00 AM

It's a growing statistic. Take measures to prevent manure storage incidents on your dairy.

by Amanda Smith, Hoard's Dairyman Associate Editor

Saturday night, our industry endured yet another tragic loss with the passing of a Northern Ireland dairy farmer and his two sons. The three died from effects of exposure to poisonous manure gases as sons Graham and Nevin tried to save their father, Noel. Nevin was a talented young rugby player who competed with Ulster.

As noted in a BBC news report, "It appears that Noel Spence slipped into the slurry tank and his two sons and then their sister attempted to rescue him but were overcome by toxic fumes from the tank." Their sister Emma was taken to the hospital where she recovered from the effects of fume inhalation and was discharged Sunday night.

According to The Health and Safety Executive in Northern Ireland (HSENI) there has been one fatality a month on farms in the area for the past 20 months, making it the worst period for farm safety in memory. In the past decade, Northern Ireland has had six slurry related deaths.

While the tragedy didn't occur on U.S. soil, it is a reminder that when we deal with manure storage we need to take the upmost care and have measures in place in the event of an accident. As manure decomposes it gives off poisonous fumes including methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that bubbles to the surface more quickly if the slurry is disturbed.

Two University of Wisconsin Extension Center for Agricultural Safety & Health documents address the issues and safety surrounding storage and tips for dealing with non-enclosed manure storage.

With non-enclosed storage, hazards include:
  • A thick crust that makes swimming, buoyancy and moving difficult.

  • Steep and slippery slopes that make getting out of manure storages difficult or impossible.

  • An acceleration of hazardous gases (primarily methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and ammonia) released from manure due to movement, agitation, removal or addition of manure to storage.

  • Localized layers of hazardous gases existing above manure surfaces, especially on hot, humid days with little to no breeze.

  • Not having sufficient oxygen to breathe if a person is ‘treading' in manure because of inability to get out.
The documents also address safety practices that should be implemented to protect yourself and workers on your dairy. Take time to discuss manure storage with employees and develop an emergency plan in the event of an accident.