Reading This Article Could Save Your Life — Rob Meinen, Department of Animal Science

Posted: June 19, 2012

The recent tragic death of three Pennsylvanians at a Maryland manure storage should act as a reminder of the risks associated with all manure storages. Injuries and fatalities are commonly associated with confined space manure storages that are enclosed, such as beneath animal quarters, or belowground reception and pump out pits. However, these deaths occurred at a non-enclosed earthen dairy manure storage that was open to the atmosphere. For many of us these open-air storages are not thought of as confined spaces. It is important to realize that these storages still meet the definition of a confined space in terms of occupational safety and health. This is because the areas are not designed for normal worker/human occupation and often do not have means of egress. In a common storage situation, once you cross beyond the fence you are entering a confined space.

In the case of open-air manure storage pits and ponds there are many hazards to consider. Every manure storage is different. Footing near storages can be hazardous. Steep and slippery slopes that can make getting out of manure storages difficult or impossible. Localized layers of hazardous gases can exist above manure surfaces, especially on hot, humid days with little to no breeze. Increased rate of gas release may occur due to movement, agitation, removal, or addition of manure. This may mean that someone who is ‘treading’ in manure may not have sufficient oxygen to breathe. Finally, response time for adequate emergency actions can be slow due site isolation and remoteness.
Agricultural safety guidelines are admittedly crude in comparison to industrial standards. Dennis Murphy, Davis Hill (both with the Penn State Ag Safety program), Mike Aucoin, Department of Agriculture, and I have put together the following list of safety guidelines to follow.

 1.  Make sure everyone that needs to be near manure storage structures
      understand the hazards that exist, including the effects that the various gases
      have on them.

 2.  Make sure the open air manure storage has a fence installed around the
      perimeter and access gates are locked to keep unauthorized personnel from
      entering the area.

 3.  The open air storage should have manure drowning hazard signs and no
      trespassing signs on all sides of the storage.

 4.  If you must go into the fenced area of the open manure storage, wearing a
      safety harness with life line attached to a safely located solid object or anchor
      will enhance your chances of rescue.

 5.  Never work alone. The second person’s role is to summon help in an emergency
      and assist with rescue without entering the storage (more than 50% of confined
      space deaths occur to rescuers!).

 6.  Rescue equipment, such as a flotation devices and lifelines, should be attached 
      to every manure pump.

 7.  Move slowly around manure storages as the ground can slippery or uneven and
      may cause a person to trip or stumble. There should be no horseplay near the
      open manure pit or pumping equipment.

 8.  Always act as if manure depths are deep. Unlike water, you cannot see into
      manure to judge the bottom surface.

 9.  Bystanders and non-essential workers should stay away from pump out or other
      accessible areas.

10.  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.

11.  If you feel unsure or uncomfortable with what you are getting ready to do near
       the open manure pit, step back, contact someone and review the situation
       before proceeding.

12.  Be prepared to call 911 if an emergency happens. Being prepared means
       accurately describing the incident, number of victims, and giving specific
       directions to the site of the emergency.
Further information on manure storage safety can be found at