Manure handling, gas safety recommendation guide available

A new report prepared by agricultural engineers and farm safety experts examines different manure handling systems in Wisconsin, the dangers presented by manure gas, and offers safety recommendations to keep farmers and their employees alive.

“Although manure is a natural by-product of livestock farms, manure can produce deadly gases that are dangerous and unpredictable,” said Ed Odgers, conservation engineering section chief with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and one of the report authors. “The scale and complexity of manure systems has increased dramatically in recent year. It was time to take a hard look at these systems to identify and address the dangers posed by manure gases.”

The 18-page report, Manure Gas Safety: Review of Practices and Recommendations for Wisconsin Livestock Farms, looks at the potential hazards of different procedures to handle manure on farms. They range from drive-in covered storage tanks to open pits and reception tanks to processing rooms often used with manure separators and digesters.

The report was prepared by a manure safety review team staffed by experts from the state agriculture department, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the University of Wisconsin Madison Biological Systems Engineering and the Waupaca County Land Conservation Department.

One key recommendation in the report is a plan to educate the farm community about the dangers of different manure handling systems and what can be done to limit the potential harm to farm workers or livestock from manure gas. Other recommendations include design modifications, and the addition of safety features to existing systems, and items to include in a safety plan.

“While we have been fortunate not to have any manure gas fatalities here in Wisconsin, they have occurred in neighboring states. These tragedies are preventable with safer system designs, better management practices and increased awareness of theses dangers,” said Cheryl Skjolaas, interim director, University of Wisconsin Center for Ag Safety and Health.

One type of system in particular has drawn the most concern from the manure safety review team. The expanding use of drive-in, covered storage tanks and transfer channels place farm workers in dangerous environments with little opportunity for rescue.

Workers use skid loaders or similar equipment to enter these confined areas that are often located under a barn.

“Safety procedures state that a worker may enter a confined storage area after ventilating and monitoring for gases. The worker should wear a safety harness and rope attached to a mechanical retrieval device like a winch to recover them in the event they are overcome by manure gas,” explained John Ramsden, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. “If they’ve gone into an enclosed tank in a skid loader, there’s no practical means to retrieve them.”

These systems need to be retrofitted to limit or eliminate the need for human entry or abandon them all-together. Fortunately, cost share assistance may be available for retrofits, Ramsden said.

State and federal technical standards for manure handling systems will be revised to include required safety designs and an outreach campaign led by the University of Wisconsin has been initiated.

Copies of the report are available on the DATCP web site Search on “manure gas safety.”