3 Pennsylvania Family Members Die in Manure Pit in Maryland
Posted: July 15, 2012
A Lancaster County father and two of his two sons tragically died in a farming incident in Kent County, Md. in May 2012. Their bodies were found in an open-air manure pit on a dairy farm. The victims were a 48-year-old father and his two sons, ages 18 and 14. The causes of these deaths were asphyxiation from drowning. One victim also had significant injury from what is believed to have been the manure pit agitator.
When the family members did not return home to milk that evening, family members became concerned and traveled to the farm. A tractor and the victim’s pickup truck, both still running, were found parked beside the 2 million gallon manure storage, where the three were thought to have been working. The family members were last seen by other farm workers at about 2 p.m. Just before 8 p.m. that evening, emergency personnel were called to the scene when the farm owner reported that the workers were missing.
Injuries and fatalities occur in confined space manure storages that are enclosed, such as beneath animal quarters or below-ground reception and pump-out pits. These fatalities can also occur in non-enclosed storages, such as earthen, lined and concrete manure pits, ponds, and above ground tanks. Non-enclosed manure storages are open to the atmosphere but still meet the definition of a “confined space.”
Open-air storages are a confined space due to the definition of a confined space by OSHA. Their definition is that the space:
- Is large enough and so configured that a worker can enter and perform work;
- Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit; and
- Is not designed for continuous human occupancy.
At times getting out of an open-air storage can be next to impossible. This difficulty is a major reason open-air storages are considered confined spaces by safety professionals.
Hazards of open air manure storage pits, ponds and above ground tanks
Because of these tragic deaths, it’s a good time for all farm workers to review the following hazards that are associated with open-air manure storages.
- A thick liquid and floating crust that make swimming, buoyancy or even moving around very difficult.
- Steep and slippery slopes and straight sides that can make getting out of manure storages difficult or impossible.
- Localized layers of hazardous gases existing above manure surfaces, especially on hot, humid days with little or no breeze.
- An increase in manure gas release from movement, agitation, removal, or addition of manure to a storage pit, pond or tank.
- Not having sufficient oxygen to breathe if a person is ‘treading’ in manure because of an inability to get out.
- Not being able to see into depths of manure like you can with clear water.
- A slow response time for adequate emergency actions because of site isolation and remoteness.
Heed these safety guidelines from Penn State Extension to keep you and your workers safe around open-air manure pits.
- Make sure everyone near manure storage structures understands the hazards that exist—including the health effects from the various manure gases.
- Install a fence around the perimeter of the open-air manure storage. Access gates should be locked to keep unauthorized personnel from entering the area. Ladders for climbing to the viewing platform on above ground tanks should be padlocked or kept 8 feet off the ground.
- Place “manure drowning hazard” signs near the open air storage area. Also place “no trespassing” signs on all sides of the storage.
- If you must go into the fenced area of the open manure storage, wear a safety harness with a life line attached to a safely located solid object or anchor. This will enhance your chances of rescue.
- Never work alone. The second person’s role is to summon help in an emergency and assist with rescue without entering the storage.
- Rescue equipment, such as flotation devices and lifelines, should be available near every open manure storage area.
- Move carefully around manure storages as the ground can sometimes be uneven and may cause a person to trip or stumble.
- Bystanders and nonessential workers should stay away from pump out or other accessible areas.
- There should be no horseplay near the open manure storage or pumping equipment.
- Explosive gas may be lurking near where agitation or pumping is occurring. No smoking, open flames or sparks should be allowed. If equipment malfunctions during agitating or pumping of the manure, shut all equipment off, and remove it from the storage before servicing or repairing.
- If you feel unsure or uncomfortable with a job near the open manure storage, step back, contact someone, and review the situation before you proceed.
- Be prepared to call 911 in an emergency. This includes accurately describing the incident, the number of victims, and giving specific directions to the emergency site.