Accident highlights the need for vigilance


A story on the Ohio State University Extension Web site caught my eye the other day. Martha Filipic wrote about a dairy farm in Virginia where a total of five people died as a result of methane gas toxicity.

The farmer entered a below-ground manure pit to unclog a pipe. After he was overcome by the gas, he was followed in by a farm worker, his wife and two young daughters. They all tried to help him and they all died.

Methane gas is odorless and deadly. I wonder how many of us think about the risks that are posed by manure storage and many other areas on our farms?


Farming is a great lifestyle, but it can also be dangerous. Farming and ranching is listed as the sixth most dangerous occupation in this country by

Farmers have a fatality rate of 41.1 per 100,000. Farmers are statistically more likely to die on the job than either police officers or firemen.

The story of the five deaths in Virginia is dramatic, but not unique. I have heard of many people falling victim to toxic gases on farms.

Manure storage can produce methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. All of these gases are deadly. Two of them, carbon dioxide and methane, are odorless and can overcome a person before they are even aware there is a problem.

Any enclosed space near the manure storage may become filled with these gases. Access to manure storage should be restricted and signs should warn of the risk of gases. These areas should be fenced.

Safety measures

No one should enter any manure storage area without a self-contained breathing apparatus. Use of the buddy system where one person stays outside to get help if necessary is important. The person entering the storage area should wear a harness and a rope, which would allow the buddy to pull them out if they are overcome.

Dairy farms are family ventures. Kids become involved at a very young age. I have been on many farms that have playpens in the parlor for infants to play in while their parents do the milking.

Children may be physically able to perform a task before they have developed the reasoning ability to perform it safely.

I was on a farm the other day where a 13-year-old boy was driving in and out on a very large tractor, pulling wagons down the road between two different farms.

His parents had taught him to handle the equipment and he was very proficient.


Dairy farmers need to make sure they assign tasks to their children that they are both physically and emotionally mature enough to handle.

Children may be physically able to perform a task before they have developed the reasoning ability to perform it safely.

There are many hazards on farms that we may not even think about because they are so ubiquitous to farming.

I have seen very small children walking through freestall barns and holding pens surrounded by cows. As a veterinarian, I can tell you from personal experience that cows can cause serious physical damage.

If it is not an organic operation, a farm will use some types of chemicals. These chemicals should be kept in locked storage so no one, kids and adults alike, can have access to them unless they are trained in their use.


One of my most vivid memories from my senior year in high school is when one of my friends got his arm caught in a piece of farm equipment and had it torn off.

He was lucky enough to be able to have it reattached, but this does show that even older children can become seriously hurt or killed through a brief lapse in attention.

Dairy farming is a wonderful occupation and a great American tradition. Summer is a very busy time, but we must make sure we take steps to insure we don’t put our children or ourselves in high-risk situations.


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