Manure Pit Safety

Emily Atwood’s family farm in Jasper County, Iowa is a busy place with many potential hazards — none more hazardous than her two hog barn manure pits. She knows toxic gases and potential entrapment make manure pits potential death traps.

That’s why Emily, a risk management manager at Nationwide, prioritizes “being smart and making good decisions” whenever anyone is working around one of her farm’s manure pits. Those frequent discussions help keep farm workers and family members informed and safe from the risks. 

Such awareness is key to creating a safety culture when working around manure storage, conducting routine maintenance or repairs and a few other specific jobs in one of three types of manure storage systems:

  • Enclosed manure pits
  • Above- or below-ground manure tanks
  • Manure lagoons or holding ponds

Toxic manure pit gas hazards

Regardless of the structure, stored manure releases five primary hazardous gases that can cause explosive or oxygen-deficient air:

  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Ammonia
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Methane

“We always make sure ventilation is running and personal protective equipment (PPE) is readily available,” Atwood said. “We want everyone to think twice and make smart decisions whenever working around our stored manure.”

Get a gas monitor at a discounted price
Manure pit gas concentrations can vary over time, so it’s critical to monitor gas levels before every entry and to keep monitoring while in the confined space to ensure the safety of yourself and those working with you. We’ve partnered with KC Supply to offer a discount on gas monitors.

Create awareness and think ahead

Once you’ve identified the hazards for your specific manure storage, a combination of planning, general awareness and frequent inspection and maintenance help keep workers safe around manure pits. Entrapment, succumbing to oxygen-deficient air created by manure pit gases and fire/explosions are the most likely hazards to account for in your planning.

“By having the right know-how, procedures and safety training and equipment on hand, you can do the work safely and effectively,” said National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) Director Dan Neenan. “At the end of the day, it’s about having a daily awareness and thinking ahead to ensure no one is injured or killed.”

Also make sure all workers know the of injury or illness, including:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness/confusion
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
Get manure pit safety & rescue training
Sponsored by Nationwide and provided by NECAS, this one-of-a-kind manure pit simulator travels the country training first responders, farmers, ranchers and others on the importance of confined space safety and proper rescue techniques should a manure pit accident occur.*

Put a plan in writing

Create a written plan that includes for normal day-to-day operations and a farm emergency action plan for when something goes wrong. Pair this plan with safety training for everyone who may work around manure storage.

In building your written safety and emergency response plan, think about practices and protocols like:

  • Working with others to monitor and assist
  • Applying systems and processes for pumps, engines and other hardware
  • Keeping specific personal protective equipment (PPE) readily available
  • Reviewing your plan with everyone working near your waste storage areas
  • Discussing all potential manure storage hazards and the need to maintain safety devices and to always follow proper safety protocols
  • Performing manure storage maintenance “outside of the structure” whenever possible

Prevent hazards when doing these jobs around stored manure

Safety should be a concern for anyone working in or around liquid manure storage. In particular, these three jobs present specific hazards every manure pit safety plan should account for to keep everyone safe.

  • Moving or agitating manure. When moved, stored manure releases gases that gradually accumulate over time. And some of those gases can deplete oxygen levels in the air around concrete manure storage. Ventilation is hugely important when pumping or agitating stored manure. Make sure all ventilation fans are powered up, operational and not blocked. This keeps air moving and prevents gases from building up.
  • Reducing manure pit foaming. Sometimes gases like methane in stored manure pits will rise to the surface and form a layer of foam across the liquid. Such conditions cause a sharp buildup of gas concentration. In some cases, methane can occupy up to 70% of the atmosphere when it escapes from foam on manure’s surface. This can result in explosions when that gas is ignited. According to Neenan, it’s important to avoid foaming manure pits and to return only when the conditions have returned to normal and the foam is no longer present.
  • Inspecting gypsum bedding. Gypsum bedding is common on dairy farms to absorb moisture and sustain cow udder health. It’s a normally safe material and has other animal health and environmental benefits. But it is also a natural sulfate source that can be converted to poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas. “Always conduct a thorough inspection before beginning any work to prevent these gases from causing injury or worse,” Neenan said.

Need additional assistance? Consult your local University Extension specialist or a local Nationwide Farm Certified agent today.

Watch what Nationwide is doing to build awareness of manure pit safety
Andrew McCrea, farmer and award-winning host of The American Countryside, talks with farm safety experts with Nationwide about the procedures farmers should have in place for manure pit safety and Nationwide's expanded partnership with NECAS to bring manure pit safety and rescue training to ag communities.

* National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)-compliant gear with a self-contained breathing apparatus is required to fully participate. Access to 150 gallons of water must also be provided.

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