Fall Manure Application: Part 2 Manure and Road Safety

UW-Extension specialists discuss tips and recommendations for staying safe this fall season. Keep these safety tips in mind this fall as you’re working with manure and driving out on the roads with equipment.


Liz Binversie, Agriculture Educator, Brown County UW-Extension


Kevin Erb, Conservation Professional Training Coordinator, UW-Extension

Cheryl Skjolaas, Agricultural Safety Specialist, UW-Madison and UW-Extension


Time: 9:49 minutes


Liz Binversie: Greetings, I’m Liz Binversie, Agriculture Educator for Brown County UW-Extension and today we are going to talk about a very important topic and that’s safety. On the panel today are Kevin Erb, Conservation Professional Training Coordinator for UW-Extension, and Cheryl Skjolaas, Agricultural Safety Specialist for UW-Madison and UW-Extension. Cheryl, what are your recommendations for our farmers at home so they can stay safe during this fall manure application window?

Cheryl Skjolaas: During the fall application window, when we review manure handling and storage systems, there are a number of different types of hazards that could cause injury and illness, including fatal injuries, so there’s some really important safety steps that we want to look at. We’re going to talk about 4 main hazard categories today that you should take a review of for your storage system. These include mechanical hazards, confined spaces, during agitation and pump out, and then finally transportation and field application. When we start discussion of manure storage and handling systems and safety, we want to start with taking a look at mechanical hazards. A good first step always for safety is keeping equipment in good repair. Doing preventive maintenance can save time in your day when you’re hauling out, or maintenance now on that system may stave a major breakdown over the winter months. Another key factor for mechanical hazards is remembering to lock your equipment out. Be sure that the power is off when you go to work on a PTO operated piece of equipment or electrical piece of equipment—that someone can’t turn it back on while you’re working on it or that there’s not a residual energy in it that could reengage and catch you or catch your clothing. You need to lock out that equipment. If you’re working with others, tag it out of service. Just put a simple sign on it to let somebody know that you’re working on it and they don’t accidentally turn it on. When we get to confined spaces, they come in all shapes and sizes of manure storage and handling systems. It doesn’t matter if it’s a reception pit, pump pit, a transfer channel, a tank of some type, or even a manure tanker. Those are all considered confined spaces. You may be able to get into them but you need to take safety precautions or you may not come out alive. The first consideration is the atmosphere, and that takes adding clean air into the space. That might be forced air by using a fan or you may need to enter that space with a supplied air respirator such as an SCBA. A key important factor is monitoring that atmosphere so you know the oxygen concentrations and other gases that may be present. We talk a lot about manure gases and that’s because those manure gases have different characteristics and factors in our systems that can cause injury or death in different ways. The first thing you need to check for is oxygen-deficiency. If there’s not enough oxygen, you’re not going to sustain your life. The second gas is hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic or a poisonous gas. At high concentration levels, one breath will knock you unconscious and has resulted in death. We also have methane which is an explosive, flammable gas—lighter than air. You need to be concerned with your electrical tools, your welding, things that can cause a spark and where that methane is around. The fourth gas is ammonia and it’s an irritant to your respiratory system. It will cause permanent lung damage, so you want to be aware that ammonia is in that mix. The only way to know which of those gases are present or that your oxygen is at an acceptable level is to monitor them. You’re not going to smell them, taste them, or see them. You need to use that gas monitor. Thirdly, when you’re going into these spaces, you need to consider fall protection: a harness and a safety line, having an attendant present, somebody that can pull you out and retrieve you from that space if one of those gases or some other factor goes wrong and you need to be taken out of that confined space. Confined spaces are a big concern. Our third area then is during agitation and pump out. Again, it’s the release of these gases and out around those storage systems where we’re agitating, hydrogen sulfide is the gas of greatest concern. Especially when we start to agitate, those safe concentrations are set at 1 part per million (ppm) for occupational exposure, and quickly that level of hydrogen sulfide can increase to a deadly, lethal level. You want to be monitoring when you’re out around that storage during agitation. In this case, if it’s a totally open-air, non-enclosed situation, you probably could be safe using a single gas hydrogen sulfide monitor, but I always recommend using a multi-gas monitor for any of the manure storage and handling situations. Also try to avoid working in a direction that the agitator points, as it’ll move the gases in that same direction. Consider where that air movement is going to be going and that you’re going to have that air on the day that you’re agitating to help mix these gases back up into the atmosphere. If you’re agitating a pit over a barn, remember to remove the animals. If you can’t remove them, consider that the greatest gas concentrations are going to be in the center of the pit where there’s limited air flow or the ventilation can’t reach. Can you keep those animals closer out to the sides of that building and out of that more concentrated area? At all times in any of these areas for manure storage and handling, when we’re pumping out we want to keep nonessential personnel and family members out of the area, especially children. They’re smaller and if they get exposed to some of these gases, it’s not going to take as much exposure to get them sick. With that, I’m going to turn it over to Kevin and he’s going to discuss some safety recommendations when transporting manure from the storage area out to the field application.

Kevin Erb: Thank you, Cheryl. As we look at this issue of manure being transported down the roads, I think a lot of the safety things we talk about are just as valid for hauling grain, hauling silage, and a lot of our fall movements. I think everything really starts with knowing the rules of the road. Things like lighting—what are the requirements? Are the lights on your tractors working? Are the flashers working? Are they visible? The new Implements of Husbandry regulations that went into place here in Wisconsin in the past couple of years required lighting and marking for equipment manufactured after a certain date, but if you’ve got the opportunity to add extra reflectors, add extra lighting to your existing equipment to make it compliant with the new standards, it is going to improve safety. Always make sure those reflectors, those lights aren’t covered with mud, with dirt, and can be seen from a distance away. We see a lot of farm accidents when equipment is turning left into fields. Part of it is we tend to pull to the right to swing wide into those driveways, and when we do that, sometimes people behind don’t realize that we’re turning left. They think we’re turning right or pulling off to give them the opportunity to pass, so it is a challenge. You need to be aware of the vehicles behind you and know exactly what’s going on. Think about, too, the things we can do to improve safety by how we’re actually routing equipment. It’s much safer to turn right into a field than left. Can I be turning right onto a busier highway rather than left? Should I be going to certain fields certain times of the day so I’m not having as much traffic, especially in around some of our metropolitan areas: Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Appleton, Madison, where a lot of people live in small towns and commute into the larger communities. Of course, staying in your lane, keeping equipment that’s meant for the field out of the road right-of-way as much as possible. Finally, trying to minimize the amount of mud and material that we’re tracking onto the road as well definitely improves safety and improves our image. Finally, even when people are treating you like jerks, be courteous. Do the right thing.

Liz Binversie: Thank you Kevin and Cheryl for sharing these great safety tips. If you would like to reach them, you can do so by email. Tune in next time when we talk about the tools for getting it right with fall manure application.