With the prohibited application period for the spreading of slurry set to come to an end this week in all but four counties in the Republic of Ireland, farmers are being reminded to think safety before mixing or spreading slurry.

While poor ground conditions in many areas will likely put slurry spreading on hold for another while, some parts of the country on drier areas of land may well be moving with slurry this week once the prohibited application period ends and weather conditions allow.

Most farmers and agri-contractors alike are well aware of the dangers involved in agitating slurry. Despite this, farmers are reminded that one wrong move when mixing or spreading slurry can be fatal.

While operating the machinery involved in agitating and spreading slurry brings safety risks of its own, the Health and Safety Authority’s (HSA’s) website outlines: “Slurry presents two particular safety and health problems – drowning and gas poisoning.”

Drowning is by far the most common cause of death involving slurry. Children and the elderly are at particular risk, according to the HSA.

With this in mind, farmers and contractors alike are being reminded to ensure guards are always over open mixing points when unattended and family members/farm staff or anyone else who may be on the farm when slurry mixing/spreading is taking place are all aware of the dangers of slurry gas.

According to the HSA, smell is no indicator of the absence of gas, as many gases are odourless.

Hydrogen sulphide has a ‘rotten egg’ smell at low levels, but cannot be smelt at higher levels. High levels can be released when slurry is agitated. One breath or lung-full at this level causes instant death.

The HSA has offered the following safety tips to keep in mind when working with slurry:

  • Evacuate and ventilate before you agitate;
  • Never agitate slurry in still air conditions;
  • Move all animals out of the shed before commencing;
  • At least two people should be present at all times;
  • Keep children and elderly persons away from the area when agitating;
  • Open all doors and outlets to provide a draught;
  • Never stand over slats or near tank access points when agitation is in progress;
  • Avoid vigorous agitation in confined spaces;
  • Do not allow slurry to rise within 300mm of the slats or tank covers;
  • Keep all people away from the agitation point for 30 minutes after starting agitation;
  • Where possible, agitate from the outside the building;
  • Avoid smoking or the use of naked lights as slurry gases are highly flammable;
  • Gases can build up and remain in partially emptied tanks above the slurry, never enter a tank for any reason;
  • Put up warning signs to warn of the dangers when working with slurry.

While we enter one of the busiest times of the year on farms, it is important to remember not to take shortcuts when it comes to safety and ensure all who are working on your farm do likewise as one wrong move can be fatal when working on a farm – especially at slurry.