The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has partnered with Axa and Agriland Media Group for an innovative campaign to promote greater awareness of farm safety.
In the second instalment of this digital-only, farm-safety campaign, we turn our focus to safety around slurry storage, handling, and spreading.
In its review of work-related fatalities in the agriculture sector between 2011-2020, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) revealed that, of the 13 fatalities attributed to drowning, slurry was responsible for eight.
Of the eight, there were three mechanisms of fatality: temporarily open slurry tank; open slurry pit; and gas poisoning.
Four of the fatalities occurred when farmers fell into temporarily open slurry tanks at agitation points; three were caused by drowning after farmers fell into open slurry pits; and one farmer was poisoned by fumes from the slurry before falling in, the HSA confirmed.
Slurry-related fatalities 2011-2020 Number % – Temporarily open slurry tank 4 50 – Open slurry pit 3 37.5 – Gas poisoning 1 12.5 Total 8 100
To date, this year, there has been one fatal farm incident involving slurry.
These harrowing incidents highlight the many hazards associated with slurry, and the absolute need for care and attention when working with it.
Top tips on ways to stay safe during this busy period
Farmers must prepare well, and in advance, when spreading and agitating slurry.
And, importantly, children must never be allowed near a tank, pit, agitator, or any machinery involved in slurry handling.
Facilities and equipment
Farmers must ensure that all facilities and equipment are safe and up to standard.
- Covered or slatted tanks require agitation manholes, which must have manhole covers, including a safety grid underneath, that are fit for purpose.
- A hinged top cover, either with a lock or safety catch, or with element(s) too heavy for a child to lift is also required;
- Both tractor and agitator must be in good condition; brakes, lights, power-take-off (PTO) shaft covers, hydraulic coupling and hoses, and hitches must all be in sound working order.
- It is critical that the implement-end O-guard, the PTO shaft cover, and tractor PTO U-guard are in place.
- Any repairs that are needed to the tractor, equipment, or covers, must be done before undertaking the work.
Hydraulic motors to replace PTO shafts are grant aided under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme and should be considered as a safer alternative to PTO shafts, according to the DAFM.
Agitation of slurry can be extremely hazardous, as it causes harmful gases to be released.
There are several important considerations when carrying out this activity.
- Check the weather forecast to ensure good conditions, particularly that there is adequate air movement to disperse slurry gases.
- Before commencing tank agitation, all livestock should be moved from the slatted shed, and all doors must be opened.
- There should be no-one in the shed while the tank is being agitated – or in any building that shares a common airspace with it – for at least 30 minutes after agitating has finished.
- Agitate on a windy day so that gases released during the process are dispersed – this is hugely important.
- Ensure gases do not drift and build up in poorly ventilated areas of adjacent buildings. There have been incidents where farmers have collapsed in adjacent buildings or in milking parlours while the slurry tank was being agitated, or even some considerable time later.
- Remember, where outdoor agitation points are located in sheltered areas – between buildings, close to a hedge, trees or a bank – there is reduced air circulation. This could lead to the build up of slurry gas outdoors to harmful levels.
- Indoor agitation is extremely dangerous. You should not agitate a tank from an internal agitation point, and never extend a building by roofing over an existing outdoor agitation point unless the agitation point is moved.
Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme support is available to construct external agitation points.
Slurry gas comprises methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and the poisonous gas, hydrogen sulphide.
These gases are produced by bacteria during the decomposition of slurry, and agitation causes these gases to be released. Slurry gas is heavier than air and will settle over the top of the slurry and at ground level during agitation.
Gases may also migrate along ducts or pipework into adjoining buildings such as milking parlours.
Hydrogen sulphide has a ‘rotten egg’ smell at low levels but cannot be detected at higher levels as it quickly affects your ability to smell. Inhaling a breath or lungful of the gas can cause unconsciousness or even death.
Children’s safety must be front and centre of every conversation about farm work, especially as we approach the summer months when children will be home on their school holidays.
You need to ask yourself: Where will the children be? Can they access the farmyard? Who will be supervising them?
You cannot assume someone else will be minding them, if you haven’t discussed it!
- Under no circumstances should children be anywhere near the farmyard, slurry pit, or tank when agitation and spreading are taking place.
- Due to their size, children are at even greater risk of being overcome by slurry gases, falling into slurry tanks, or getting hit by or entangled in machinery.
- Children should not be able to open manholes covers on tanks.
- A safety grid should be fitted to provide protection when the lid is open.
- Surface slurry tanks should be protected with walls or a fence that cannot be climbed by children.
Other slurry-related safety tips
- Do not allow slurry to rise within 300mm of the slats or tank covers.
- Avoid smoking and using naked flames as the gas mixture contains methane and can be highly flammable.
- Never enter a tank – gases can build up and remain in emptied tanks.
- Put up warning signs at each agitation point alerting people to the dangers when working with slurry.
- Cover all slurry tank manhole openings.
- Agricultural contractors must be aware of the dangers of working with slurry and should ensure that they work safely at all times.
- Use outdoor agitation points – one lungful of slurry gas can kill.
- Only agitate when there is good air movement.
- At least two people should be present – and should stand upwind – while agitating.
- Never stand over slats or near tank agitation points when agitation is in progress as you may be affected by slurry gases.
- Ensure all guards on the slurry tanker and agitator are complete and in place – do not use unless correctly fitted, and replace any damaged covers.
- Drive at an appropriate speed and consider the movement of slurry within the tank when cornering.