Secure spreading: Safety is key when putting out slurry

Following the lifting of the annual ban on slurry and fertiliser spreading, and the beginning of the open period today, Monday, January 13, safety should be to the foremost of everyone’s minds.

A number of guidelines have been outlined by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) in relation to slurry spreading, with many farmers around the country anxious to get spreading when the weather permits.

According to Pat Griffin, senior inspector with the HSA, the following guidelines should be followed when spreading slurry on your farm.

Safe agitation guidelines from the HSA:
  • Agitate on windy days;
  • Remove all livestock and control pets;
  • Open all doors and control access;
  • Agitate/ventilate and stay away for 30 minutes;
  • Work upwind at all times;
  • Do not enter tanks – even when empty;
  • Keep tank openings secure at all times;
  • If possible, avoid agitating alone.

A sign and sticker outlining these protocols has been developed by the HSA, with farmers encouraged to make a copy of the sign and place a sticker on the agitator or the back of the slurry spreader. This can be downloaded from the authority’s website here.

The HSA spent a significant amount of time deciding on the list above and Griffin explained that planning and preparation is crucial when spreading slurry.

We spent a lot of time identifying specific bullet points that would keep people safe and that is the definitive list.

“If people follow that they have a huge chance of not being affected,” he added.

Planning and control

“Planning is where farmers should start – looking at the weather and the equipment,” according to Pat.

“The second thing is to follow all of those bullet points in relation to spreading and the third thing is that when they go out to a field to spread to make sure the tank is secured.”

Opening doors and ventilating is extremely important, it was noted.

In order to keep both farmer and animals safe it is essential to relocate livestock when spreading slurry, Griffin noted.

“If you leave livestock in the shed and you start to agitate sometimes the animals go down and the farmer automatically goes in to try and help them and then he/she goes down.”

This can also be the case if a pet or sheepdog enters, the inspector warned.

30-minute clearance

“Normally, with a reasonably-sized tank most of the gas will have gone within 30 minutes of agitation because the gas is held in the liquid similar to the gas in a coke bottle and once you shake it and open it 90% of the gas goes very quickly.

We would recommend staying away for 30 minutes.

Griffin explained that he knows some farmers have entered the slurry tank when it is empty in order to sweep slurry out of the corners. This is madness.

“That’s crazy because hydrogen sulphide – which is the gas that kills – is heavier than air and it will normally lie at the bottom of the tank.

Even if the tank is empty, if there’s a little bit of slurry in there it will still generate gas and you might have hydrogen sulphide gas sitting at the base of the tank – maybe 1-1.5ft.

“If you go in with a brush and start sweeping around it moves the gas up and your head is in a downward position when you’re sweeping and you’re breathing heavily as well.

“It’s actually a deadly situation to go into a tank like that,” he stressed.

Secure tank openings and suitable tractors

Securing the opening of slurry tanks is crucial to keeping people safe on the farmyard while spreading the load.

Griffin warned that people agitating, filling a load and leaving the tank open when spreading is a big problem.

“People fall in while they’re away so we try to encourage them to have a grid on the opening so that the hose can fit through the grid.

“They can take a load and off they go. They don’t have to worry about people falling in because there’s a grid on it.

There’s a lot of risks with slurry handling. You must make sure the tractor is matched with the tanker – that the tractor is big enough to handle the tanker.

“You have to make sure that the PTO is properly guarded,” he warned.

“You also have to make sure that the tractor is in good order and that you’ve got good brakes because you’re going to have quite a load behind it going into fields and onto slopes.

“There’s a lot of things to think about,” he concluded.