Slurry survey shows shocking disregard for safety advice

Date published: 02 February 2015

A new report based on a survey of 100 local farmers has revealed that only 18 per cent of those surveyed wait the recommended 30 minutes before re-entering a building where slurry mixing has started.

In addition, 14 per cent said they waited for only five minutes, or even less, after the start of mixing before re-entering the building.

These figures are all the more shocking considering that all the farmers who participated in the survey confirmed that they were well aware of the risks from slurry gas during the mixing process. Indeed, 20 per cent reported that either they or a family member had been affected one or more times by the most deadly gas produced by slurry - hydrogen sulphide.

Commenting on the main findings of the survey, Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland Keith Morrison said:

“It is demoralising that despite the high awareness of the dangers from slurry gas, many farmers are still willing to risk their lives when mixing slurry.

“While the survey was relatively small in scale, it still shows that out of 100 farming professionals, only 18 waited the recommended 30 minutes before re-entering the building after slurry mixing had started. This is not acceptable.

“Farmers should follow all of the recommended safety advice, and at the very least they need to stay out of the mixing building for at least half an hour. Just one breath of slurry gas can cause serious injury or even death.”

Ulster Farmers' Union President Ian Marshall added; "It is disheartening to hear that only a small percentage offarmers waited the recommended 30 minutes before re-entering a building where slurry mixing had started.

“I am very concerned that farmers are continuing to put their lives at risk by entering the mixing house despite the safety advice being given by HSENI.The dangers of slurry gas are very well-known and it’s hard to think of any excuse which would justify taking the risk.

“One death on a farm is one too many and farmers need to take responsibility for their own safety by following the advice that’s being given. It really could make the difference between life and death, so as we enter into another busy farming year I would like to ask you all to take a minute and think before carrying out any job on the farm.”

Undertaken by the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute, the survey involved asking 100 farmers about their slurry management practices.

The main points from the report concerning slurry mixing are as follows:

  • only 18 per cent of farmers surveyed indicated they would wait for over 30 minutes before re-entering a house after mixing had started - the most common reason cited for re-entering the building was to check on the progress and to move the angle of the jetter
  • 14 per cent of respondents waited for only five minutes or less after the start of mixing before re-entering the building
  • 88 per cent moved livestock out of the buildings before mixing started
  • 60 per cent of farmers entered a building where slurry mixing had just started to assess mixing progress and move the angle of the jetter
  • 75 per cent had safety slats at mixing points, 15 per cent had some safety slats and 10 per cent had no safety slats
  • 15 per cent reported one incident where they or a family member had been affected by hydrogen sulphide and five per cent reported more than one incident

HSENI has produced a new slurry gas safety leaflet, ‘Mixing Slurry Safely’, which can also be downloaded at the following link: 

For more information about working safely with slurry or general farming health and safety issues, please contact the HSENI helpline on: 0800 0320 121 or visit the Farm safety section of the website.

HSENI’s slurry mixing code

  • keep children away from the area at all times when working with slurry
  • If possible, mix on a windy day
  • open all doors and windows
  • take all animals out of the building before starting to mix slurry
  • use outside mixing points first
  • if slats are removed, cover exposed areas of the tank beside the pump/mixer to stop anything falling in
  • start the pump/mixer – then get out and stay out of the building for as long as possible - at least 30 minutes
  • any time you have to go into the building try to make sure that another adult knows what you are doing and can get help if necessary
  • if you have to re-enter to move the pump or change the direction of the pump, leave the building as soon as this is done – do not go back in for as long as possible – at least another 30 minutes

Never

  • rely on filter type facemasks
  • use gas monitors as a substitute for working safely
  • have naked flames near slurry, as slurry gas mixture is flammable
  • stand close to the exhaust of a vacuum tanker when it is being filled

The ongoing ‘Stop and Think SAFE’ farm safety campaign focuses on the four main causes of death and injury on our farms – slurry, animals, falls (from height) and equipment (SAFE).

Notes to editors: 

  1. The ‘Safe Practice in slurry mixing operations’ report was produced by the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute and funded by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. 
  2. The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body, sponsored by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. 
  3. HSENI is the lead body responsible for the promotion and enforcement of health and safety at work standards in Northern Ireland.

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