Falling into a slurry tank and living to tell the tale: One man’s story

Audible gasps from the crowd at the National Conference on Farm Safety and Health could be heard as one man detailed how he recently fell into a slurry tank, but managed to escape relatively unscathed.

Speaking from the floor, a farmer – who wished to remain anonymous – said: “Approximately two weeks ago I had an experience of ending up in the bottom of a slurry tank, which is not a nice experience.

“The space I went down through was actually 10in. The biggest problem when you do end up down there is that your wellingtons are weighed down. There is no access to get out and all the walls are very smooth.”

The farmer – who is a former official of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) in North Tipperary added: “Most tanks now are 8ft deep, so you will have no way of getting out whatsoever.

He explained how he believes an “escape route” should be incorporated into the design of slatted slurry tanks, for those who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a similar situation to him.

The incident happened at an outside agitation point on a shed that was constructed in the 1980s. The farmer had to move double slats with the front loader of his tractor in order to agitate the tank.

The man had been standing on one of these double slats when it suddenly gave way beneath him.

He put the accident down to the stress and cracks on the slat from moving it, thus compromising its durability.

‘You are frightened; everything runs through your mind’

Speaking to AgriLand following the conference, he said: “I fell clean through. The only thing I did was graze my back a little bit.

“There was about 2ft of slurry in the tank and I ended up on my backside. My wellingtons and everything were full of muck; I was fair heavy at that stage.

The first thing I thought when I looked around was ‘how am I going to get out of here?’. You are frightened; everything runs through your mind; you’re conscious that there could be gas there.

“The only thing that I found was a strap that was on the next double slat. So I caught it and pulled myself up through the hole and out, which takes a bit of effort and I’m not a young fella.

“It took me a couple of minutes to gather myself. You’re in shock and you can’t believe that you’re down there. You’re looking around and saying, ‘How in the name of God did I end up here?‘.

“I wouldn’t like it to happen to me again,” he said.

‘I don’t actually remember getting out’

The accident happened at around 11:00am on a day when the farmer was on his own on the farm. He believes that some farmers could find themselves in a similar situation, as the area around agitation points can become very slippy.

He has since upgraded his own facilities to prevent a similar incident in the future.

“It is a freak thing to happen. The fright you get and trying to get out. If you are unfortunate enough to slip, you have to have a way out.

I remember catching the strap and pulling myself up, but I don’t actually remember coming out through the top.

In response, Pat Griffin of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) admitted that an escape route for those who fall into slurry tanks may have to be explored in the future.

He said: “It’s probably something that many of us haven’t thought about – when people do fall in, how do they get out. Unfortunately, most don’t ever get out; they quickly succumb to the gases or the liquid.

“The focus has to be on preventing falling in in the first instance. So no matter what size the hole is, having proper protection there that you don’t fall in – whether it’s a grid or some other mechanism – is absolutely where we have to look at first.

“We don’t want to encourage people to be going in and out of tanks.”