This may not be a surprise for some within our industry, but it was a shock for me. Manure pits, common on livestock farms where they help make cleaning of livestock buildings easier, can be a very deadly place indeed. And not only can they be deadly, but they often cause multiple deaths in a single incident.
Instead of having to shovel manure, a farmer or their employee can simply hose down the facility floor, with waste falling into underground manure pits. Down in the pit, the raw manure undergoes "anaerobic digestive fermentation". This process can create potentially dangerous gases, including methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. In a well ventilated pit, no problem may exist, but without proper ventilation, these gases can displace oxygen, and can cause death in a matter of minutes. Compounding the issue is the fact that the oxygen deprived brain is far more susceptible to making faulty judgments. This is often attributed to why multiple people die in these events. The rescuer is likely to be overcome during the rescue attempt.
In 2007, 4 members of a Mennonite family and their hired farmhand were killed in a manure pit. This was not the first time so many perished at one time. In 1989, a family of five died in a similar accident. One after another, they went into the pit to rescue those who had gone before, and ended up suffering the same fate. In the 1980's there were almost 20 manure pit deaths, with 40 percent of the victims succumbing while attempting a rescue.
In 1990, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued a report warning of these dangers. They recommend, quite simply, “Never enter a manure pit”. They further recommend that farmers:
- Post hazard signs on all manure pits.
- Provide access to all serviceable parts from outside the manure pit.
- Fit all openings to manure pits with substantial metal grill covers.
If you or your company deal with agricultural facilities and their workers, this might be something you want to make sure is reviewed with them. After all, a manure pit truly is a crappy place to die.