Manure Pit Safety: Because the Stakes Are High

A quick skim of news headlines related to manure pits is ominous.

“Michigan farmer spreading manure dies in auger accident.” (Detroit Free Press)

“19-year-old seriously injured when loader fell into manure pit has died.” (BDN Mid-Maine)

“Farming accident causes death of 11-year-old.” (Mille Lacs Messenger)

“Manure tanker crashes in ditch, one hurt.” (

“Passenger in van seriously injured after crash with manure spreader.” (Democrat & Chronicle)

And that’s only this year. Manure is typically spread in the spring and fall, which happens to coincide with the busyness of planting and now harvest. 

Decide now to make safety a priority before the rush.

Prepare facilities around your manure pit with advice from Penn State Extension

1. Post signs with warnings of deadly manure gases and instructions to enter the pit with a self-contained air supply, ventilation, a rescue harness and a stand-by person. There are specific OSHA requirements for signs, so be sure your signs comply.

2. Create a written plan for every farm space that is hazardous, including manure pits. These should be reviewed annually by every farm employee and family member. Plans should include the requirement of having a rescue person who under no conditions enters the hazardous area. It should also list specific reasons the hazardous area should be entered and include an emergency exit plan.

3. Prepare entrance areas of manure pits for emergencies. Place ventilator fans near entrances and ensure everyone on the farm knows to first call 911, then use the ventilator fans at the entrance to the manure pit to provide fresh air to the area. One spark from a poorly maintained fan could start a fire if flammable gases are present, so be sure to maintain the equipment and do not lower the fan into the pit. Always ensure the manure pit area has been adequately ventilated before entering.

4. Place a common fall arrest and retrieval system at the manure pit. This typically includes a tripod with an attached winch to stop falls and should be able to hold up to 500 pounds. While it is possible to build this yourself, commercial systems are typically best. They can often be rented for $100 per day or purchased for $1,500 to $2,500.

Prepare employees with these recommendations from The Lancaster Farmer.

1. Wear a gas monitor when handling manure to alert of dangerous gas levels. Monitors can be rented or purchased.

2. Pay attention to your body. Anxiety, loss of motor skills, headaches, dizziness, throat and eye irritation, and respiratory discomfort are all signs the air you are breathing is dangerous.

3. Have a plan. Ensure all farm employees and family members know how to quickly turn off equipment and leave the area. Quick action is essential.

4. Avoid confined spaces. However, also remember accidents can happen even in open air. 

Prepare emergency responders with this advice from the National Ag Safety Database.

1. When calling 911, do not hang up until the dispatcher tells you to do so. They may initiate an emergency response and then check back with you for more information. Alert them to farm conditions that may hinder emergency response, like gas leaks or electrical wires.

2. Know the specific location of your manure pit before an emergency strikes, and provide landmarks easily distinguishable in poor weather and darkness. Post detailed driving instructions to your farm at all telephones.

3. As you wait for EMS to arrive, remain calm. Never move someone with a spinal injury unless they are in immediate danger. Provide assurance to the injured person that help is on the way.

4. At all costs, prevent others from entering the manure pit. Many manure pit accidents have multiple tragedies because family members or employees believe they can quickly enter a manure pit without succumbing to the noxious gas that has already incapacitated their loved ones.

Also important: Build relationships with emergency responders and encourage them to utilize the free resources at the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety before a crisis occurs.

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