Slurry gas is lethal – just one breath can kill

A new DVD has been launched aimed at increasing awareness and improving safety around slurry handling on Irish farms.

The DVD entitled ‘Slurry Gas: The Silent Invisible Killer on Irish Farms’ was produced as a joint venture between the Health and Safety Authority and Irish Rural Link. The footage shows how toxic gases released during slurry agitation can kill instantly.

The DVD includes a powerful testimonial given by Galway farmer Mr Noel Tierney who talks about the day, in 1993, when his son Fergal died trying to save him after he himself was overcome by slurry gases. The short DVD also outlines advice on safe slurry handling, measures to avoid exposure to the lethal gases and steps to be taken to prevent drowning.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, launched the DVD today. Speaking about the dangers of slurry handling, he said, “The tragedy experienced by Noel Tierney and many other farm families over the years shows us that it is often the rescuer who rushes in to save a loved one that ends up being killed. When dealing with something that is as lethal as slurry gas, we must do everything in our power to minimise the risks and protect family, workers and animals alike.”

In Ireland, over 40 million tonnes of slurry are stored, handled and spread each year. In summary, the advice when working with slurry is:
• Check the forecast and only agitate on windy days;
• Remove all livestock and control pets;
• Open all doors and control access;
• Ventilate, stay away for 30 minutes during agitation;
• Work upwind at all times;
• Do not enter tanks even when empty;
• Keep tank opening secure at all times;
• If possible avoid agitating alone; and,
• Use the safety sign available from Irish Rural Link to remind you of the steps.

Children and the elderly are at particular risk. In the period 2000-2010, 30% of child fatal accidents on farms were caused by drowning in slurry or water. In the same period 8% of deaths to elderly farmers were caused by drowning. There have been five people (including one child) killed in and around slurry tanks since 2010.

Martin O’Halloran, CEO of the Health and Safety Authority said, “While the majority of slurry related fatalities we investigate involve drowning, there is concern that low levels of toxic gases emitted may have played a part. Even in very small doses these gases can cause dizziness and disorientation which can cause a person to fall into a tank or pit and drown. I appeal to farmers to follow the simple rules to stay safe while handling slurry.”

Seamus Boland, CEO of Irish Rural Link said, “Slurry handling involves many hazardous activities such as the movement of livestock and the use of machinery along with the dangers of toxic gas and drowning. It is essential that this work is properly planned and carried out with safety in mind at all times. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to develop this important DVD with the HSA. The grief and trauma that accidents cause to farm families and rural communities is devastating and we need to do everything in our power to prevent these tragedies.”

Copies of the DVD will be available from Irish Rural Link and other members of the Farm Safety Partnership.

The Health and Safety Authority has also announced today that it will begin a two-week intensive farm safety campaign beginning on Tuesday April 22. The Authority plans to visit over 250 farms and inspectors will be reviewing all of the key areas of safety management on farms. The main areas of focus will be safe slurry handling, ensuring machinery is properly maintained and guarded (PTOs), good handling and loading facilities for livestock, farmyards and building are in good repair and electrical equipment is to the correct standard.

Farmers are required to carry out a risk assessment and this can be done by downloading and completing the free risk assessment document from www.hsa.ie.

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