Last Wednesday, Northeast agriculture lost three more farmers – killed in a manure pit accident. Maryland State Police and subsequent autopsies confirmed that Glen Nolt and teenage sons Kelvin and Cleason died, likely after Cleason was somehow caught in a pit agitator propeller. The others likely succumbed to pit gases while trying to rescue him.
The accident happened at Centerdel Farm, near Kennedyville, Md. The Nolts, from Peach Bottom, Pa., had a custom manure hauling and spreading business.
Their deaths is a stark reminder of the need for safety precautions – at all costs – when working around such facilities, stresses Dennis Murphy, farm-safety specialist at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "These ponds typically contain a thick liquid and floating crust in which movement is very difficult," he explains. "They also often have steep and slippery slopes that make getting out difficult or impossible."
Even at open-air ponds, hazardous gases can collect above manure surfaces, especially on hot, humid days with little breeze. Pit or pond agitation may accelerate generation of those gases.
Someone unable to get out and trying to tread in the manure may not have enough oxygen to breathe. To add to the dilemma, emergency response might be slow to arrive because of remote or isolated farm locations.
Tragically, manure storage incidents often involve multiple fatalities, points out Murphy. "When someone falls into a manure-storage facility or is overcome by gases, the first reaction of nearby family members or farm employees is to go in and help. Those would-be rescuers quickly can become victims as well."
What to do if . . .
Murphy recommends the following safety guidelines to minimize risk of injury or death around an open-air manure-storage facility:
- Make sure everyone who needs to be near manure-storage structures understand the hazards, including how invisible gases can affect them.
- Make sure the open-air manure storage is surrounded by a fence and that access gates are locked to keep unauthorized personnel from entering.
- Manure drowning hazard signs and no trespassing signs should be posted on all sides.
- If you must go into the fenced area of the open manure storage, enhance your chances of rescue by wearing a safety harness with a life line attached to a safely located anchor.
- Never work alone. The second person's role is to summon help in an emergency and assist with rescue without entering the storage.
- Rescue equipment, such as flotation devices and lifelines, should be attached to every manure pump – and used.
- Since explosive gas may accumulate near where agitation or pumping is occurring, allow no smoking, open flames or sparks.
- If equipment malfunctions during agitation or pumping, shut off all equipment and remove it before servicing or repairing.
- Be prepared to call 9-1-1 if an emergency happens. Being prepared means accurately describing the incident, number of victims and giving specific directions to the site.
A Penn State fact sheet on open-air manure-storage safety can be found online at http://psu.ag/Kjq8Lp .