Manure pit rescue training

John Pulliam
A group of Mercer County farmers listens to Brad Kruse of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety discuss safe confined space entry procedures.

In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 500 farmers died on the job, while another 70,000 suffered disabling injuries. The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) was in Aledo July 30 to attempt to keep area farmers from becoming one of those statistics.

The event at the county fairgrounds was sponsored by the Mercer County Farm Bureau and was paid for by a grant from Country Financial.

Brad Kruse of NECAS emphasized manure pit safety during his about two-hour presentation inside and outside the Merchant's Building. As part of the presentation, he brought the NECAS Confined Space Manure Pit Simulator.

About 20 area farmers took in the event. About 35 volunteer firefighters were expected that same evening for a session dealing more with rescue.

"At the end of the day, this is a very serious thing," Kruse said. "It's a life or death issue."

During a slide presentation, he emphasized the do's and don'ts of confined space entry, meaning such places as manure pits and grain bins. Kruse said an attendant should be posted at the entrance. In addition to logging people in and out, Kruse said the attendant should "be in complete contact with the person going in."

He said the atmosphere in a pit should be tested for such things as oxygen content and the presence of combustible gases, vapors and toxic agents. While acknowledging they are not inexpensive, he urged farmers to buy gas monitors or to join with others in purchasing one.

Ventilation was something Kruse mentioned over and over.

"If you can, ventilate, ventilate, ventilate," he said.

Three levels of the pit should be tested, he said. The upper levels are where the good air should be, the next lower level the bad air and the lowest the deadly air. He talked about the proper method to take monitor readings.

Kruse also discussed acceptable oxygen levels, as well as the dangers of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, methane _ "This is what is going to go 'boom,'" ammonia and carbon dioxide.

Personal protective equipment _ hard hats, eye protection, hearing equipment, respirators, protective coveralls, gloves, proper footwear and a safety harness are also important, he said.

In addition to presenting the program for area volunteer firefighters, Kruse, himself a firefighter, said farmers should talk with their local departments.

"See if they do have gas monitors, do they have some kind of retrieval system," he said. "If you have some unique areas (of your farm) invited them out."

Kruse said firefighters can develop a pre-plan in the case of these types of emergencies if they have the chance to look over the layout.

"We just want to make sure everyone here is safe," he said.

Despite its name, the Manure Pit Simulator contained no manure. It did, however, show how rescue struts fitted with a tripod head can be used as a retrieval system by fire departments. He noted a full retrieval system can be very expensive and rarely used, but rescues struts are mainly used in traffic accidents, as well as not costing as much.

Acting as an attendant knowing a person was in trouble in a confined space, Kruse emphasized the attendant is never to enter the pit.

"With this winch, the first thing I'm going to do is call 911, get help coming," he told the farmers.

He then showed how he could use the equipment to bring Mike, a 170-pound mannequin fitted with a harness, out of the pit.

"The attendant is very important," Kruse said.

He said people are sure these types of situations can never happen in their areas, but they do.

"You can talk about it all you want, but it keeps happening," he said, especially as larger farms mean larger pits.

Dennis Biddle, a hog farmer from the Joy area, was pleased the event was brought to town.

"We don't get many opportunities like this," Biddle said. "This is a privilege and we appreciate it."

Mercer County Farm Bureau Manager Kendra Bolen said this is about the third time in the past five years the bureau has been able to present some type of safety training.