Friday, December 12, 2014

Assessing Hazards in Manure Storages & Handling Systems

As I was installing a new circuit in my garage the other day, it got me thinking about where I learned this useful skill. To no surprise, my first experiences with wiring were at the farm with my dad. One day he decided it was time to replace all the lights in a barn (no doubt due to some university research saying better light encourages cows to give more milk). As with most farm projects, it of course goes better with a little help, and as a result I was drafted into service as the “flashlight holder” and the “where did I set the (insert tool name here) locater.” Now this might not appear to be an important job, but let me tell you it really is, for both the flashlight holder and the guy trying to get the wiring done. Any time you’re wiring the power is off and you are in the dark, so someone to hold the flashlight for you gives you two hands to work with, and if you are the one holding the flashlight it’s your chance to learn a new skill from someone who knows what they are doing. So what’s that got to do with safety… well, although most projects went well, every now and then one went differently than what we expected and at the end we’d say, “that was lucky.” In those cases it wasn't that we didn't realize that there were things that could go wrong in what we were doing, it was that we didn't take the time to think about what those things were and the best ways to minimize those risks.

So, now the fun part, where I say something that is supposed to inspire you to take the next step, walk around your farm, and identify the risks associated with your manure management system. Then of course, I finish by trying to provide you with a tool, tip, or technique to help you in the process. This all sounds like a simple process, 1, 2, 3, and it all comes together and your safety issues are solved. However, in trying to come up with my story about why safety is important only one thing came to mind… family. So I hope you take the time this winter to think about the safety program at your farm, and help develop a culture of doing things correctly and safely so your family has happy holidays for years to come.

In terms of developing a safety program, I think there are about four steps to work through, with your manure system being no different. 1. Select the job to be analyzed, 2. Break that job into a sequence of steps, 3. Identify potential hazards associated with each step, and 4. Determine preventative measures to address that hazards identified. Before we get stated, just two thing to remember, Safety is not optional and Safety is more than signs!


That are lots of activities that go into your manure system and even more into your farm, but since this is a manure blog we’re only going to focus on the manure portion of safety. Any manure system really accomplishes five tasks these are manure collection, transport to treatment/storage, storage, transport to land application area, and land application. It’s important that you consider all five steps, understanding that in many ways the steps that happen infrequently (transport to the land application area and the process of land application) might present more risk not only from the activity itself, but also because these tasks are so rarely performed.

So, here I’m going to focus on the manure storage. What safety hazards are there? The risks differ for each type of manure handling systems and the activity you are performing. Enclosed structures are commonly associated with asphyxiation hazards related to gases from manure decomposition, while open structures are often associated with drowning risks. In the case of open manure structures, one way to reduce the risk of drowning is by purchasing and installing a fence around the storage. This can work really well at keeping children and animal out and just as importantly identifies to people entering that there is a risk present. Though this is a great start, and focuses on just the general day to day risks, there still may be times when we may have to enter inside the fence, for example if we are collecting a manure sample or getting ready to agitate and remove the manure. Having a safety harness available that can be attached to anchor points on the storage might be one to reduce the risk of this activity of manure sampling.


Now that we've  talked about safety , I’m going to try to help show you a way to organize the process. In the table below I've identified a specific item, the day-to-day operation and maintenance of a manure storage. The next step is to identify examples of potential hazards. In this case it might include the risk of falling in (that drowning hazard) or the risk of hazardous gasses. The final step is then to think about what we could do to reduce or manage that risk, so for example placing a fence around the storage to help prevent entry or in the case of under building storages, making sure pump-out covers are in place.

How is the storage operated and maintained.
Examples of Potential Hazard
Example Preventative Measures
If the storage takes place in an open or closed tank…

Falling into the tank leading to: possible trauma, drowning, and potential life-threatening situations

Such tanks or pits are often confined spaces and would be expected to have hazards: oxygen deficiency, hydrogen sulfide toxicity, methane exposition potential; as well as others, especially under certain conditions like the presence of foam or during times of manure agitation
Avoiding entry into the manure storage area.

Place a fence around the storage or in case of under barn pits, make sure the access points have sturdy covers.

If you are interested in learning manure about manure storage safety ASABE has a standard EP 470: Manure storage safety that can be a nice resource. It details several safety risks and some things to consider in managing those risks.