Today I’m sharing an interview with Penn State’s Dennis Murphy published by Progressive Dairyman. I saw their presentation on manure gas at the Midwest Regional Agricultural Safety and Health conference back in 2016, and it really demonstrates how quickly gas can build up without proper ventilation. Manure gas is one of the most deadly hazards on the farm. The gas is colorless and it only takes a matter of seconds to loose consciousness. Unfortunately, in many cases you see multiple victim incidents because your natural instinct is to try to get the person that went in out. Manure gas is also highly flammable and I can also think of a few cases of barns and pits exploding/burning down very quickly due to manure gas catching on fire from bad wiring or cigarettes. Foaming can be a warning sign that flammable gas is present, but the gasses can still be there even if there isn’t foam.
Prevention in the form of ventilation is key, and there are some manure additives that can reduce the production of manure gasses. Penn State offers an online tool to predict how long a pit needs to be ventilated to make it safe to enter (click here to see it). It is also essential to have equipment to detect manure gas and to test before and during every pit entry. Penn State has produced a comprehensive guide to different types of gas detection equipment (click here to see it). Another key piece of equipment for all manure pit entries is a harness and safety line. Since anyone attempting a rescue would also be affected by the gas, the only way to get someone out without creating a bigger problem is to pull them out with a harness and safety line. This also means that for every person working in the pit, there should be at least two people outside of the pit standing ready to pull them out if they have a problem. Ideally if manure gas levels are too high, or if oxygen levels are too low, entry should be avoided until the pit can be ventilated enough to enter safely. If for some reason that isn’t possible, a supplied oxygen system must be used for entry. Supplied oxygen systems can be expensive, and requires regular maintenance training to use, so if you decide to go this route, make sure that you are prepared to invest in training and equipment maintenance too. Some places use supplied oxygen for every pit entry, which is a good idea if you can afford to keep the equipment and training up to date.