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Manure pits expose toxic gases to farm workers in Illinois

The agricultural, forestry and fishing industry is the most dangerous industry for workers in the U.S. Workers in this industry have a fatality rate eight times higher than any other industry combined. Farming is part of this industry and it continues to be plagued with safety hazards.

One of the lesser-known safety hazards for farm workers is the threat of manure pit deaths. Research shows that 10 farm workers die every year due to manure pit accidents. While this is not a high number, manure pit deaths are a preventable farm accident and a new standard may be able to help reduce these tragic accidents from happening on Illinois farms.

Why are manure pits so hazardous? Manure pits are dangerous to workers because of the toxic gas that is built up in the storage facilities. Fatal manure pit accidents usually happen when a worker enters the storage facility to repair or clean out the pit. When they enter, they are exposed to so much toxic gas that they pass out and die in the pit. Often times, another worker or family member sees the worker in the pit and enters to try to help them. Unfortunately, many of these people end up dying due to the toxic fumes as well.

To address the safety risks of working in manure storage facilities, researchers at Penn State have come up with new standards to help ventilate the facilities. The new standards should be used on farms throughout the country to reduce the risk of manure pit deaths. Researchers said that the ventilation standards of the past were not always followed and they did not always protect workers. Now, the new standards should help properly ventilate the toxic gases out of the facilities as well as address when it is safe for workers to enter and work in the manure pit.

Manure pit deaths can be prevented and while it these accidents do not cause a significantly high number of deaths in the farming industry, any fatality is unnecessary and farms need to follow safety standards to prevent farm accidents in the future.

Source: Phys Org, “Scientists develop research-based standard to reduce manure pit deaths,” April 22, 2013

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