Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act employers are required to provide information, instruction, and supervision to protect the health and safety of workers. Included as part of this obligation is information, instruction, and supervision on potentially hazardous confined spaces, work areas that may contain hazardous gases, and the appropriate procedures for working in these situations. For these situations, a written plan to protect workers should be developed and communicated to workers to protect their safety.
Gases including hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia are produced from the decomposition of organic matter and are referred to as “manure gases”. OMAFRA provides a factsheet on hazardous gases that provides information on these and other hazardous gases on farms. These gases can build-up to highly concentrated levels, which presents danger to both humans and animals and can lead to death. Manure pits are confined spaces, and as such, manure gases can build-up if the pit is not properly ventilated or in particularly warm weather. An understanding of the dangers of manure gas build-up and how to prevent incidents is critical to ensuring manure pit safety. There are precautions that can be taken to minimize risk when working in a manure pit.
Processes such as pit agitation, pulling plugs, manure transfer, shutting down barns, and incidents of foaming manure are times that workers need to be especially diligent. Before engaging in these processes, it is essential to take appropriate precautions. Precautions to take include:
- Remaining vigilant while working in manure pits
- Educating workers on hazards
- Closing pull plugs immediately
- Being aware of what causes sudden releases of manure gases
- Knowing where the air supply to the barn is coming from
- Installing a hydrogen sulfide or multi-gas detector
- Proper manure pit ventilation
- Ventilation fans should be operating on full prior to pit agitation
- Test the pit atmosphere before entry
- Never allow a worker to enter the pit alone, there should be at least one other worker present
Prior to entering the manure pit you should check that the air is safe to breathe and the area is well ventilated. Also, all equipment should be locked out. You should use a secure safety line when entering the manure pit and ensure you have someone else with you to assist in the event of an incident. Workers should not enter a manure pit or adjoining structure while manure is being agitated and until the area has been thoroughly ventilated.
Supervisors are responsible for making sure workers use any PPE that is required and that they follow workplace plans and procedures.
The Government of Ontario says that a self-contained air supply should be worn when entering a manure storage area. A dust mask or cartridge respirator is not sufficient and will not provide the oxygen requirement to work in manure pits.
Proper manure pit safety is essential in all farm operations. Ensuring all necessary precautions are taken will protect workers and will allow your workplace to operate safely. The information provided above is a brief summary of manure pit safety.
Elite Agri Solutions has an online course available to train employees and operators in Confined Space Awareness, the course can be found here. Elite Agri Solutions offers workplace safety training and education on health and safety. We will ensure your workplace is safe and that you meet all mandatory requirements. Do not hesitate to contact us for more information on this service.