Manure-pond deaths in Maryland reinforce need for safety awareness


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The recent deaths of three Pennsylvania farm-family members in a manure-storage pond in Maryland is a stark reminder of the need for safety precautions when working around such facilities, according to a farm-safety specialist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Common hazards

Although circumstances surrounding the recent fatal incident are still under investigation, there are several common hazards associated with open-air manure pits and ponds, such as the one in which a Lancaster County man and his two teenage sons died, said Dennis Murphy, distinguished professor of agricultural safety and health.

“These ponds typically contain a thick liquid and floating crust in which movement is very difficult,” said Murphy. “They also often have steep and slippery slopes that make getting out difficult or impossible.”


He explained that localized layers of hazardous gases may exist above manure surfaces, especially on hot, humid days with little breeze. Release of these gases may be accelerated by movement, agitation, removal or addition of manure to the storage pond.

Someone unable to get out and trying to tread in manure may not have enough oxygen to breathe, and emergency response might be slow to arrive because of remote or isolated farm locations, Murphy noted. Tragically, incidents related to manure storages often involve multiple fatalities.

“When someone falls into a manure-storage facility or is overcome by gases, the first reaction of nearby family members or farm employees often is to go in and help, and the would-be rescuers quickly can become victims as well,” Murphy said.

Safety precautions

Murphy recommends the following safety guidelines to minimize the 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 the various 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 the area.

The facility should have manure drowning hazard signs and no trespassing signs on all sides of the storage.

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 solid object or 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.

Move slowly around the manure storage, since the ground sometimes can be uneven, causing a person to trip or stumble.

Bystanders and nonessential workers should stay away from pump-out and other accessible areas.

There should be no horseplay near the open manure pit or pumping equipment.

Explosive gas may accumulate near where agitation or pumping is occurring. No smoking, open flames or sparks should be allowed.

If equipment malfunctions during agitation or pumping of the manure, shut off all equipment and remove it from the storage before servicing or repairing.

If you feel unsure about what you are preparing to do near the open manure pit, step back, contact someone and review the situation before proceeding.

Be prepared to call 9-1-1 if an emergency happens. Being prepared means accurately describing the incident and number of victims and giving specific directions to the site.


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