Deaths of Farm Workers in Manure Pits

The growth of Agri industries in the U.S. has increased the size of agricultural operations to unimaginable proportions. As a result, farm workers fatalities in manure pits are a growing concern of the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Deaths have occurred in Virginia and in an Idaho manure pond were 200,000 lbs. of manure is produced every day on a dairy farm.

How Do Deaths Occur in Manure Pits?

There are several ways deaths occur in manure pits. Some of these are enclosed tanks, while others are located on dairy farm properties in lagoons.

When manure becomes liquefied, it is stored in slurry or holding tanks. The most common danger of enclosed manure tanks to farm workers is suffocation. Click To Tweet

When manure becomes liquefied, it is stored in slurry or holding tanks. The most common danger of enclosed manure tanks to farm workers is suffocation. The suffocation is mainly due to the build up of toxic gases that include:
  • Methane
  • Ammonia
  • Hydrogen Sulfide
  • Carbon Dioxide
These gases occur when manure decomposes in an enclosed tank. When it becomes necessary to agitate manure in manure pits, these gases are released. Should oxygen mix with methane gas, the other cause of farm workers’ deaths is explosion. Recommendations by the Farm Safety Association and National Ag Safety Database to limit deaths of farm workers in manure pits, workers should be informed of the nature of various gases released during manure decomposition, including the physical effects. Agri operators should also ensure adequate ventilation in confined space areas where manure is stored.

NIOSH Recommendations

NIOSH recommendations for farm workers to prevent injury or death include:
  • Never enter a manure pit unless absolutely necessary and only when proper safeguards have been taken
  • The atmosphere within the pit should be tested before entry,
  • If the atmosphere is toxic or oxygen-deficient, do not enter without proper respiratory protection
  • A standby person should be in constant contact and ready to lift the worker to safety with mechanical lifting equipment (winch, hoist, or pulley), and
  • Anyone entering a manure pit should wear a safety belt or harness with a lifeline tied to the mechanical lifting device
  • Never enter a manure pit to attempt a rescue without proper respiratory protection"

Added Benefits of Additional Confined Space Training

Since manure pits fall under the OSHA definition of confined space, farm workers should be provided with Confined Space training classes to reinforce their knowledge and understanding of entry into manure pits. The most comprehensive Confined Space Course suitable for farm workers can be found at The course offers instruction in how to identify and describe confined space, as well as atmospheric conditions, duties of employees and employers applicable to Confined Space Entry, testing protocol and descriptions of rescue and emergency services. All courses at are taught by professionals in the field of environmental health and safety. Confined Space Entry programs help farm workers be more aware of OSHA compliance regulations that protect them from the dangers of manure pits and allow them to work in a safe environment. Confined Space for Construction  

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